1. Ministerial foreword
Since our first Benefit Take-Up Strategy was published in October 2019, we have all become even more aware through the pandemic of the need to have a strong social security net. Social security is a collective investment in building a better and fairer society. Part of that is ensuring people are aware of, and enabled to access, the financial support that they are eligible for and entitled to.
Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, we can point to many achievements to be proud of as we continue to deliver devolved social security – our newest public service. Since the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed, giving us the legal framework and powers to deliver social security benefits for the first time, the Scottish Government has delivered 11 benefits – 7 of which are brand new and unique to Scotland, and the 4 others replace UK Government benefits in an improved and enhanced way. Our new agency, Social Security Scotland, has continued to grow in order to deliver these benefits to an increasing number of clients. Encouragingly, we have seen good levels of take-up of the Scottish Child Payment and Best Start Payments, which support families on low incomes, with initial estimates ranging between 77% and 84%.
We now plan to deliver more benefits, including the most complex disability and carer's benefits and winter heating payments. Whilst the latter will be automated, the former are application-based and we know we need to work hard to encourage people to apply for these new benefits.
Inclusivity is at the centre of the system of social security we are building and is fundamental to our approach to promoting the take-up of benefits. Our commitment to engaging with seldom-heard groups and people with protected characteristics is driving new and bespoke approaches to supporting people to access assistance.
The insight we are gathering from Experience Panels, user research and client engagement informs our focus on ensuring that our promotion of benefits is accessible to everyone, and that all the associated information and advice can be understood, and is provided in settings where people will encounter it. Ultimately, where possible we are committed to taking advice and support to clients; rather than expecting them to come to us.
At the heart of this refreshed strategy is a recognition that benefit take-up is part of a bigger picture – one pillar of a holistic Scottish Government approach to maximising incomes, which underpins commitments related to tackling poverty and recovery from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ensuring that support reaches those in need is of paramount importance, and will be critical in delivering on our national mission to tackle child poverty. With this in mind, this strategy places increased focus on cross-government and cross-system working, in particular where areas of civic life can come together to tackle poverty and maximise incomes.
The first Benefit Take-Up Strategy focussed on removing social barriers to people accessing Scottish benefits, on addressing complex or costly access, and on improving access to information. These principles remain at the heart of this refreshed strategy, as we work to ensure people from all walks of life can access the support they are entitled to through their new Scottish social security system.
Ben Macpherson MSP
Minister for Social Security and Local Government
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