Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 - benefit take-up strategy - October 2021: measuring take-up of low-income benefits

In this supplementary paper to our second benefit take-up strategy we set out our approach to the measurement of low income benefits.

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5. Best Start Foods


Best Start Foods is a recurring payment designed to help qualifying pregnant women and families with children under the age of three to purchase healthy foods via a payment card[9]. It is a recurring payment paid to eligible parents every four weeks and is worth £4.25 a week for most clients and £8.50 a week for clients with children aged 0 to 12 months. Figure 10 shows the amounts an eligible person will receive per week depending on the age of their child.

Figure 10. Payment Values of Best Start Foods

Pregnant: £4.25, Child born: £8.50, Child turns 1: £4.25, Child turns 3.

Approach to Estimating Take-up

To estimate take-up of Best Start Foods, we need to express the number of benefit recipients as a percentage of the total number of people who are eligible for Best Start Foods.

To estimate the number of benefit recipients, we used Management Information (MI) provided by Social Security Scotland on the number of Best Start Food payments made each payment cycle over the period between April 2020 and June 2021. We used this data to estimate how many children and pregnant mothers are receiving a Best Start Foods payment on each given payment cycle date. A payment cycle is 4 weeks in length with all payments to eligible claimants being made on the last day in the cycle. There are some important limitations of this data that should be considered when interpreting take-up estimates, which are discussed in the “Caveats and Limitations” section. MI data has been used rather than official statistics as the official statistics only cover total payment values by month rather than number of payments made each cycle.

As with all other benefits that we present our estimate of the take-up rate for in this strategy, we have produced our own eligibility estimates for Best Start Foods. To do this, we used population estimates from the National Records of Scotland (NRS), where available, and projections to give number of children under the age of 3 living in Scotland. For pregnant mothers, we use NRS birth projections from the following year and multiply by a factor to account for the fact[10] that a pregnancy does not last a full year.

We use UKMOD to estimate the percentage of children under the age of 6[11] who are likely to be eligible for the Best Start Foods payment. The UKMOD outputs are then analysed off-model, incorporating the qualifying benefit and income limit conditions, to estimate the proportion of children and pregnant mothers who are eligible for an application for Best Start Foods to be made. This is our eligibility rate, which is applied to the total number of children and pregnant mothers. An adjustment is made to account for mothers under the age of 18, who are either pregnant or have a child under 12 months old, as they have 100% eligibility under the benefit criteria.

We have taken the average number of benefit recipients and divided it by the average size of the eligible population between April 2020 and June 2021 to estimate the take-up rate.

Although the benefit launched in August 2019 to replace Healthy Start Vouchers in Scotland, we have only included payments from April 2020. This is because when Best Start Foods was introduced, Healthy Start Vouchers was still available to be received in Scotland until March 2020. Therefore calculating a take-up rate which considers the period of transition would not provide an accurate representation of take-up. The period that we consider does not include any payment cycles where the recently increased rate has been available to claimants. This initial estimate covers the period April 2020 to June 2021 in order to cover as many payment cycles as possible.

Figure 11 is a flowchart which summarises the methodology used to estimate the take-up rate of Best Start Foods.

Figure 11. Methodology to calculate take-up of Best Start Foods

  • Take Social Security Scotland MI data on number of BSF payments at each payment cycle;
  • Derive Eligible Recipients from information on number of payments;
  • Take NRS population estimates for children below the age of 3 years old;
  • Estimate number of pregnant mothers using NRS birth projections;
  • Use UKMOD to estimate eligibility rate, with an adjustment to improve alignment with outturn benefit caseload data;
  • Apply eligibility proportions to population to give Eligible Population;
  • Calculate take-up rate as: Take-up rate = Eligible Recipients/Eligible Population.

Initial Estimates of Take-up for Best Start Foods

We estimate that, from April 2020 to June 2021, the take-up rate of Best Start Foods is 77%.

Caveats and Limitations

In addition to the limitations set out in Boxes A and B, there are some key caveats attached to this take-up estimate.

There is some uncertainty around the estimate of eligible pregnant mothers which must be considered when interpreting these results. The uncertainty can be attributed to two main factors. Firstly, the estimated number of pregnant mothers are based on NRS projections of births which were published in 2019. Whilst these are the most recent published projections, they are relatively outdated. A key consideration is that they were made pre-COVID-19 and thus do not incorporate any of the effects of the pandemic. The second factor is there a few assumptions that have been made about pregnant mothers due to the absence of evidence:

  • it was assumed that for all births, the mother was living in Scotland throughout the pregnancy and was thus always met that part of the eligibility criteria;
  • it was assumed that pregnant mothers’ likelihood of eligibility is the same as that calculated for children; and
  • it was assumed that there were no multiple births, i.e. one birth equals one pregnancy.

Furthermore, there is some inconsistency around the number of children under the age of 3 that we use in this analysis. For payment cycles in 2020, we use the mid-year population estimates from NRS. However, as estimates are not available for 2021, we use population projections instead. It should be noted that these are 2018-based and as such should be considered a limitation.

Finally, there is a limitation which relates to benefit recipients which must be borne in mind when interpreting these results. The number of Best Start Foods recipients paid each cycle is estimated as the number of child and pregnant mother payments made during each payment cycle. There are limitations with this approach that must be considered when interpreting the initial estimate of take-up, which mean that we may be underestimating the number of benefit recipients. Mainly, a small number of the child payments may be for more than one child. As each child payment is counted as one recipient, the estimated number of benefit recipients, and consequently the take-up rate, may be slightly underestimated.

The take-up rate for Best Start Foods is our best estimate, but, for the reasons discussed, there is some degree of uncertainty attached to this estimate.



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