The Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendment and Transitional Provision) (Scotland) Regulations 2022: Fairer Scotland Duty impact assessment summary

Assesses the impact of changes to Best Start Foods, Best Start Grants and Scottish Child Payment on socio-economic inequality. This duty came into force in Scotland in 2018 and is set out in Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010. It considers issues such as low income, low wealth and area deprivation.

Stakeholder Engagement

There has been policy engagement with stakeholders throughout the development of the FFP and since launch. This has included workshops with anti-poverty organisations, think tanks, local authorities and academia to develop the policy and delivery model for them. We have held one to one meetings and attended a number of member events organised by the Scottish Campaign for Welfare Reform, the Social Security Consortium in Scotland and the Poverty Alliance, amongst others. These events have been designed to seek views on the policy for the FFP, identify any barriers towards claiming and consider how we can best maximise uptake of the benefit.

We also hosted a series of events and meetings to consider the impact of the FFP on those with protected characteristics, including on young people. We engaged with Fife Gingerbread; Young Scot; Inclusion Scotland; CEMVO Scotland; Engender; Scottish Women's Aid; Families Outside; Shakti; and religious groups.

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People hosted a stakeholder roundtable in January 2020 in relation to SCP, which was an open discussion with key stakeholders allowing them to ask questions about the policy and delivery of the benefit. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government held an additional roundtable with stakeholders in August 2021.

We have also held a number of meetings with our FFP reference group, which is made up of a number of key stakeholders with an interest in the policy area, including Child Poverty Action Group, Citizens Advice Scotland, Engender and a number of other groups.

At our meeting in January 2022, we provided the reference group with an overview of our proposed changes. The overall feedback we received was positive. It was felt that introducing auto-award for elements of BSG would make it easier for people to get what they are entitled to. There was a suggestion that BSG would need to be auto-awarded to the person who would normally have applied for it and that this might not be the person receiving SCP for the child. However, we are only able to auto-award payments on the basis of an individual receiving SCP, which in the case of SCP is the main carer of the child. Where someone contacts the agency to ask not to be auto-awarded Early Learning or School Age Payment they can be removed from the process, allowing another eligible person to apply within the application window.

In relation to providing new exceptions to the general rule that an individual is only entitled to the higher Pregnancy and Baby Payment when they are applying in respect of their first child, it was highlighted that it will be important to work with relevant third sector organisations to raise awareness among refugees who may be eligible. We intend to work with a range of stakeholders to promote awareness of all of the changes we are making. It was also suggested that those who have been forced to leave their home due to domestic abuse should be included and we have now expanded on our original proposals to include this group.

In relation to SCP, the proposed improvements to the regulations were viewed overwhelmingly positively by stakeholders and were thought to better match policy intent as part of the extension to children aged between 6 and 15. Generally, stakeholders were positive about efforts to drive take-up of SCP. It was suggested that a significant effort must be taken to ensure take-up amongst those families who had received SCP for a child who aged out before the extension of the payment to older children. This will be addressed through a comprehensive communications and engagement plan featuring targeted communications and local delivery.

We consulted with island stakeholders as part of the Islands Community Impact Assessment process and some of the feedback raised by islands stakeholders was relevant to this impact assessment. One stakeholder told us that removal of the condition that the child is not looked after by the local authority in residential care will support families dealing with children in care situations, which can often be fluid depending on the circumstances of the case. It was felt that this change could be seen to be in line with the objectives of The Promise[6] and supportive of children both in care and returning home.

The proposal to provide new exceptions to the general rule that an individual is only entitled to the higher Pregnancy and Baby Payment when they are applying in respect of their first child was also welcomed. The exception being made for parents or carers of a child who came into their care after 12 months old was seen as important to support and encourage kinship care arrangements and help to keep more children within their extended family. Finally, it was highlighted that for auto-award it would be important to ensure that where families are in crisis or transition (through domestic violence, children coming into care or moving in and out of kinship care etc.) that the benefits are paid to the appropriate people.

We also engaged with Women's Aid and SafeLives to discuss providing a new exception to the general rule that an individual is only entitled to the higher Pregnancy and Baby Payment when they are applying in respect of their first child, for parents/carers who have been forced to leave their home with a child due to domestic abuse. It was highlighted that pregnancy and the first year of a child's life are a high risk time when domestic abuse can intensify. Women, whose earnings are often limited when pregnant or looking after a young child, often have no financial means to leave home when they are experiencing abuse.

We have also carried out an interim evaluation of SCP and BSG and an evaluation of BSF, with an external contractor carrying out interviews with a number of clients and gatekeeper organisations on their experiences of the payment to date.

Qualitative data from the interim evaluation for BSG[7] suggested that BSG is likely to generate positive feelings and behaviours among children and their families, while reducing negative ones, which could potentially translate into improved health and well-being for both children and their families. For children, their parents and carers reported positive feelings such as sense of excitement in the children as they were able to pick items for school. They also reported better bonding between themselves and their children as well as among siblings in families with more than one child thanks to purchases of items or services that enabled such bonding.

Although BSG is fully rolled-out, its impacts can only be fully assessed after at least 5 years from the roll-out by which time eligible families will have had a chance to receive multiple payments for the same child. We intend to commission a further evaluation to report in 2025 on these families' experiences.

The evaluation of BSF[8] describes a number of positive findings. They show the benefit helps people buy a greater quantity (and quality) of healthy foods than they could without the benefit. Payments also support healthier shopping habits and meal planning. For example, recipients report purchasing healthier snacks for their children, and some experiment with new healthy recipes, without worrying about wasting money or food.

BSFs may be contributing to better health and wellbeing for children. Recipients report observing their children eating more and a greater variety of fruits and vegetables and feeling positive that they can provide their children with more nutritious foods.

Recipients also experienced reduced levels of stress and anxiety in relation to finances as a result of receiving BSF. It had given participants a sense of relief knowing they could use it to buy healthy foods for their families. For some recipients it guarantees they can afford essential foods even when their finances are difficult. For others, the payments have freed up money for costs such as household bills. They also expressed relief as BSF enabled recipients to be financially independent, whereas they previously had to ask for support from other family members. This was reiterated by healthcare professionals who observed that their recipients were less burdened by financial worries. Healthcare professionals were pleased to see the positive impact Best Start Foods was having on the health and wellbeing of families as a preoccupation with finances could impact the relationship they had with their children.

On 29 July 2022, we published the interim evaluation of SCP.[9] This provides evidence on the lived experience the people receiving the benefit from across the key priority groups outlined in the first tackling child poverty delivery plan, including, those with a disabled child, families from minority ethnic backgrounds and younger parents (under 25). This evaluation focused on qualitative data gathering. A further evaluation of SCP will be undertaken after the policy has been fully rolled out to all eligible children under 16 and allowing for enough time to make a full assessment.

The interim evaluation of SCP describes a number of positive findings. In the broad, SCP has made a positive difference to children and families. SCP has led to more money being spent on children, including for essentials like food, family day trips, and medical items for families with disabled children. SCP has reduced the financial pressure on households. SCP has helped recipients avoid debt, and some feel they would be forced to use food banks without the benefit. The application forms were straightforward. Some SCP recipients reported that this gives them a sense they are entitled to the payment, as opposed to feeling they have to prove themselves for it.

Some SCP recipients still struggled financially when payments were at the £10 weekly rate, and felt rises in the cost of living limited its impact. The weekly rate of SCP has since increased to £20 in April 2022 and will increase again to £25 as part of these regulations. Recipients' perceptions of impact will continue to be monitored, and the rate of payments kept under review.

There have been increases in application processing times across both SCP and BSF. Some recipients also report issues - e.g. a lack of communication on the progress of claims, or long helpline waiting times. Steps could therefore be taken to review processing times and to keep applicants better informed about their claims.



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