'Scottish Ministers are committed to promoting the take-up of Scottish benefits.' This is how the first Benefit Take-up Strategy opened, and it remains true today. Indeed, with the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 still unfolding, Ministers are more determined than ever to ensure that people are able to access all the support that is available to them.
This strategy sets out the Scottish Government's approach to maximising the take-up of Scottish benefits, acknowledging that this must be part of a more holistic approach to income maximisation in order to support recovery from COVID-19.
The profound socio-economic impacts of the pandemic means it is appropriate that we set out how our strategy for promoting the take-up of Scottish social security assistance has evolved and grown.
Key to our approach is a focus on continuous improvement, and a determination to apply learning gained through extensive engagement with stakeholders and users of the system, direct experience of delivery, and our response to COVID-19.
Under the provision of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 ('the 2018 Act'), the first Benefit Take-up Strategy ('the 2019 Strategy') was published in October 2019 and outlined our work on take-up to date, as well as setting out our next steps (See Annex A for legislative background to the Strategy). This Strategy builds on that foundation to establish a set of five guiding principles for benefit take-up, and show how these underpin everything we do, and will be applied through a number of new initiatives aimed at maximising the take-up of Scottish benefits.
It is important that we acknowledge the support we have received in developing this strategy, and express our gratitude to those who have helped shape it. We have worked closely with stakeholders across the third and public sectors through reference and working groups (see Annex B for membership of key groups), the Benefit Take-up and Income Maximisation Funds, and targeted engagement. We have also ensured that the voices of people with experience of the social security system have been captured in this strategy through engagement with the Experience Panels and Social Security Scotland's Client Panels.
This Strategy is structured around the following five principles – the significance of which has emerged through extensive engagement with stakeholders and users. Each principle taken alone is likely to be effective, but it is the application of these principles in combination which will yield the greatest impact.
1. Prioritise Person-Centred Approaches
Social security is not one-size-fits-all. Our approach to maximising the take-up of Scottish benefits places people at the heart of everything we do, taking account of individual circumstances and tailoring support in ways which reach and resonate with the intended audience. Person-centred approaches are clear throughout the whole Scottish social security system, from design of the benefits and application processes, to the inclusive communication standards which are central to our client-facing and internal communications. This principle also underpins our approach to supporting seldom-heard groups, whose needs are often complex and require bespoke forms of engagement – often with trusted intermediaries – to be effective.
2. Communicate and Engage Effectively
People cannot apply for benefits they don't know about. Communication and marketing are essential to the success of a benefit, and it is fundamentally important that people know what is available, what they may be eligible for, and how to apply. This relies on the putting out the right message, to the right audience, in the right place, and at the right time. Key to communication and engagement is trust, and a common theme in our engagement with stakeholders representing people across the broad spectrum of protected characteristics and seldom-heard groups has been the need to harness the support of trusted intermediaries. We have often heard through our Experience Panels about negative experiences with the Department for Work and Pensions. In order to build trust in the staff and services of Social Security Scotland as we continue to grow and establish a presence in local areas across Scotland, it is important that we work closely with professionals and local people who have strong existing relationships in communities.
3. Bring Services To People
The 2019 Benefit Take-up Strategy highlighted costly or complex access as a key barrier to accessing benefits. As well as simplifying processes involved in claiming Scottish benefits, we are working to ensure that we bring advice and support services to people where possible, rather than expecting them to come to us.
To make benefits delivered through Social Security Scotland straightforward and easy to access, and provide the level of service set out in Our Charter, we need to make sure Social Security Scotland is appropriately staffed - with the right number of people, with the right skills and in the right places. As such, Social Security Scotland will recruit a further 2,000 staff by Autumn 2022. This will include increasing posts based in communities across Scotland who will be on hand to provide local delivery services including face to face support in community spaces that clients will already visit. This will bring Social Security Scotland's headcount to approximately 3,500 people once all the benefits have been introduced and clients have transferred from the Department for Work and Pensions – with at least 400 of these people being employed within the local delivery service.
We will also launch a new £20.4 million independent advocacy service in January 2022 – creating up to 100 new roles, and bringing free advocacy support to disabled people to help them access devolved benefits.
Alongside this, the Scottish Government have committed to investing £10 million over the Parliament to increase access to advice services in accessible settings to maximise incomes, tackle the poverty penalty and improve wellbeing. This will include expanding Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships, placing money advisors in up to 150 GP practices in some of Scotland's most deprived areas, alongside expanding on pilot work providing advice in education settings.
4. Encourage Cross-System Collaboration
Social security is only one pillar of a more holistic approach to income maximisation. It is important that this work is integrated, as far as possible, to maximise its value and impact. With this in mind, we are working to better join up income maximisation initiatives across Government, and have established an internal Income Maximisation Strategic Working Group to drive this work forward. However, the importance of collaboration in maximising incomes goes beyond the Scottish Government, and we are committed to taking a whole-system approach – supporting other public sector and third sector bodies to collaborate effectively to pool resources, share learning, and strengthen outcomes. This can be seen in our approach to mainstreaming good practice, set out in chapter 7.
5. Continuously Learn and Improve
The Benefit Take-up Strategy is an iterative document. A timetable for the publication of a series of strategies set out in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. Indeed, one of the founding Social Security Principles set out at Section 1(g) of that Act is that 'opportunities are to be sought to continuously improve the Scottish social security system'. Society does not stand still, and changes in social, political, technological, and economic context and priorities mean that we must be flexible and responsive in order that our approach to take-up remains relevant and effective.
As part of the principle of continuously learning and improving, and in accordance with our statutory duty, we will produce estimates of take-up of assistance provided under the Social Security (Scotland) Act (2018). Our initial estimates of take-up of devolved benefits are included in Chapter 9, whilst our methodology can be found in the supplementary publication "Approach to Measuring Take-Up of Low-Income Benefits".
Take-up is a measure of the extent to which people who are eligible for a benefit receive it.
It is calculated by comparing the number of recipients of a given benefit to the population of people who are eligible for that benefit. We refer to those people who are eligible for a given benefit and receive it as benefit recipients. We refer to the total number of people who meet the eligibility criteria for a benefit, whether or not they claim it, as the eligible population. Whilst data is available to show us the number of benefit recipients, we need to estimate the size of the eligible population.
There are some common misconceptions around what take-up is. Take-up is not:
- The total number of applications – this includes both eligible and ineligible clients who apply for the benefit.
- Total number of recipients, payments, caseload or successful applications – this includes only eligible clients who have applied for the benefit, so excludes eligible clients that have not applied.
- Application success rate – this only includes clients who have applied for the benefit, so excludes eligible clients that have not applied.
Barriers To Access
In developing the 2019 Strategy, engagement with both stakeholder organisations and people with lived experience of the system, along with a review of relevant literature, showed that there are three key reasons for non-take-up of benefits. These are:
(perceived) stigma, felt lack of need, people in vulnerable situations, pride, or lack of trust in institutions.
Costly or Complex Access
complexity of the application, lack of time or money, limited administrative abilities or experience, or difficulty travelling to the welfare or employment office.
Lack of Information
Lack of awareness or misunderstandings about the benefit, eligibility, or application procedures.
Since publication in 2019, Scotland has undergone significant social and economic change, primarily as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, revisiting these barriers in preparing this refreshed strategy, it is clear that they remain the three most prevalent reasons clients find it difficult to access their entitlements.
Non-take-up may take a number of forms, and may be:
- full or partial (only taking-up part of the amount one is entitled to);
- temporary (delayed take-up) or permanent (from eligibility until the moment eligibility expires);
- primary (not applying) or secondary (applying, but not receiving even if entitled).
Consultation and Engagement
As part of the duty to prepare this strategy, Scottish Ministers have consulted with two key groups:
1. People who have received assistance through the Scottish social security system, and
2. Organisations who work with or represent people living in households whose income is adversely affected, or whose expenditure is increased, because a member of the household has one or more protected characteristics within the meaning of Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010.
Beyond the duty in the 2018 Act – and expanding on the scope of the 2019 strategy – we have also increased efforts to engage with a further significant segment of the population:
3. People and organisations representing seldom-heard groups – identified based on extensive stakeholder and client engagement, as well as desk-based research.
Engagement with these three aggregate groups forms the basis of this strategy, and ensures that it is based on the experience of Scotland's diverse population.
Child Poverty Strategy
In delivering new and existing support we will give careful consideration to the needs of our six priority families to maximise the impacts of Scottish social security support on child poverty, ensuring that they are able to benefit from the help available.
Income maximisation is an important part of our efforts to tackle poverty. Our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan sets out that increasing incomes through social security and benefits in kind is one of the key drivers of child poverty reduction. Taken together with action to increase incomes from work and earnings and to reduce household costs, this will help to lift families out of poverty and to provide the financial security families need to thrive.
The Plan also sets out the priority families at greatest risk of poverty, where efforts must be focused in order to effectively tackle and reduce child poverty. This includes lone parent families, the large majority of which are headed by women; families which include a disabled adult or child; larger families, with 3 or more children; minority ethnic families; families with a child under one year old, and; Families where the mother is under 25 years of age. Around 90% of children in poverty in Scotland live in these priority families, therefore it is critical that our services are accessible and reach these groups in particular.
As well as highlighting progress since the 2019 strategy, this strategy is also built around a number of take-up initiatives:
- Investing £10 million over the current Parliament to increase access to advice in accessible settings to maximise incomes and tackle poverty. This includes expanding Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships through the funding of £2.9 million over three years to place welfare rights advisors in up to 150 GP surgeries in Scotland's most deprived areas, alongside an expansion of pilots providing advice in education settings;
- Rollout of Social Security Scotland's local delivery network – 400 staff in 32 local authorities by the time the service is fully operational;
- Establishing a stakeholder take-up forum proactively identifying examples of best practice as well as settings in which they might be replicated;
- Working with stakeholders to co-design interactive and helpful resources to support the mainstreaming of existing good practices around benefit take-up;
- Creating partnerships to connect services so that across the country awareness of benefits is raised with people at particular life events that may have implications for their eligibility;
- Working with a range of specific seldom-heard groups to better understand and address non-take-up among particular populations;
- Following up work to better understand and address stigma surrounding benefit receipt;
- A multi-channel financial wellbeing marketing campaign, covering free debt advice, affordable credit, and beginning with a focus on benefit take-up;
- Developing a more coherent approach to the range of wider income maximisation work that is already happening across government, giving a clearer sense of a collective direction of travel and supporting joined-up approaches which will drive greater efficiency
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