4. Principle 1: Prioritise person-centred approaches
In applying this principle, we will:
- Commit to reaching out and taking advice and support to clients; rather than expecting people to come to us.
- Make sure we have the right information, in the right place, at the right time.
- Simplify processes and messaging to make access to benefits and engagement with the system more straightforward and less daunting for clients.
- Tailor our approaches to supporting the take up of benefits to the needs of different audiences, especially seldom heard groups and people with protected characteristics.
- Engage with the people who are using the system and those who represent them, and act on the insight gained from them to continuously improve our approach.
- Ensure that a person-centred approach is adopted in policy and decision making, and enable our stakeholders to implement a person-centred approach when advising clients.
- Pay particular attention to the needs of the most vulnerable of our population, overcoming inequalities that impede people's access to the system.
To support income maximisation, applications for Best Start Foods and Best Start Grant will be made on the same application form. Following the launch of Scottish Child Payment on 9 November 2020, a single application form is now being used to apply for Best Start Grant, Best Start Foods and Scottish Child Payment, making it easy for eligible families to access the money they are entitled to.
Invite to Apply
Social Security Scotland now write to families inviting them to apply for Early Learning and School Age Payments of Best Start Grant, as well as Best Start Foods and the Scottish Child Payment. Information obtained from DWP and HMRC allows Social Security Scotland to identify people who may be eligible. This proactive approach to maximising benefit take-up is a first for Social Security Scotland.
As stated in the Programme for Government 2021-22, published 7 September, we will explore systems of automatic payment for devolved social security benefits, to maximise take-up. This includes linking Scottish Child Payment with Best Start Grant.
Carers already have busy and demanding lives. In line with Our Charter, applying for and getting support should be simple and stress free. Carers should be treated with patience and kindness, with consideration for how they may feel. The system should also understand carers' needs and the challenges they face, and offer flexibility in the range of ways they can engage with the system, to fit around their other priorities.
Our work to date has found that carers tend to view the current application process for Carer's Allowance fairly positively as it is relatively straightforward and trust-based, and it is important that this is protected. Consideration will need to be given to this in relation to any changes to eligibility criteria which could add complexity to the process of applying for Scottish Carer's Assistance.
Making an application
We are making the application process as simple and easy as possible to encourage and support people to apply for the payments they are entitled to. The application process for disability assistance will be inclusive, accessible, provided in a range of formats and available through a range of routes (online, phone, post and in-person). We are making a number of improvements to the application form to include clear guidance on how the eligibility criteria is applied. This will ensure a client is supported in providing relevant information with in-person support available.
Supporting information includes sources of information provided by a client's wider support network in support of the client's application. The client can provide us with supporting information from a professional themselves or if required can ask us for support in requesting it from public health providers, local authorities and relevant organisations within the third sector. Only one piece of formal supporting information to support the general care and mobility needs described on an application will be required and equal consideration will be given to all sources of information, including from a client's informal support network.
During an application to Adult Disability Payment, a client will only be invited to participate in a consultation where it is necessary in order to make a determination of the individual's entitlement. Unlike DWP assessments, a consultation will take place in a way that is convenient to the individual. Consultations will not be a standard duration, they will be tailored to the individual's circumstance.
Clients will therefore not be asked unnecessary or repeated questions nor will they be rushed in giving an account of how completing an activity makes them feel. Social Security Scotland practitioners will take the time necessary to fully understand the impacts of a disability and/ or health condition on the client. Functional examinations will not be carried out as part of a consultation. We believe such examinations do not treat people with dignity, fairness and respect and do not result in accurate and consistent decision making.
Our commitment to introducing longer-term Disability Assistance awards with no fixed end date mean a review date will be set as part of the initial award. The review will ensure that the individual is receiving the right level of assistance for their needs.
We are committed to investing £20.4 million over the next four years in the provision of an independent advocacy service.
The new and ground-breaking service will launch in January, and will support disabled people to have their voice heard, express their views, and feel understood. The service will be available to anyone who identifies as having a disability and requires additional support to communicate. This builds on our human rights-based approach, making Social Security more accessible to disabled people in Scotland – supporting them to be more involved in processes and decisions which affect them.
Advocacy support will be available throughout the whole of the process for seeking support. This will be from the point of application, through any request for redetermination and through to appeals. Advocacy workers would also be able provide support at assessments if requested by the client.
It is clear that not all groups share the same needs, and an effective approach to promoting benefit take-up among one cohort of the population may not be effective or appropriate when engaging with another.
The Stakeholder Take-up Reference Group (see Annex B for details of membership) was established to implement and monitor the interventions contained within the 2019 strategy, as well as feeding into the development of future Strategies, ensuring that the stakeholder perspective is always present in decision making.
The group contains key representation from organisations representing protected characteristics including Age Scotland, BEMIS, Engender and Inclusion Scotland. In Spring of 2021 the invited membership was broadened to ensure that the voice of each protected characteristic were represented within the group. The group were also instrumental in supporting the development of our Equalities Impact Assessments.
The Stakeholder Take-up Reference Group also increasingly includes representation from seldom-heard groups and we are committed to further expanding the membership to better capture these voices.
We know that one of the best ways to identify the real issues within vulnerable communities is to listen to the people that belong to these communities, people with lived experience of accessing the benefit system, and equally of those that have not yet accessed the benefit system. That is why we commit to fully engaging with our stakeholders and their clients through various channels, including through Local Delivery working on the ground, and through the research that comes from the Experience Panels.
In preparing the strategy, officials have engaged with stakeholders who represent each of the protected characteristics within the meaning of Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010. These characteristics are:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Our engagement has shown that many people, and older people in particular, suffer from digital exclusion. For example a report by Citizen's Advice Scotland indicates only 12% of individuals aged 65 to 79 report being able to use a computer "very well". Our engagement with Age Scotland revealed that the organisation distribute around 50,000 information guides a year, with benefit-specific guides being of particular value to older people, as well as delivering workshops for housing associations.
We will continue to use trusted intermediaries such as Age Scotland, and make use of signposting opportunities such as those embedded within the NHS to mitigate such exclusion and work toward a positive outcome for older people.
A recent report from Glasgow Disability Alliance shows that 41% of Disabled People face barriers to information, with 60% experiencing digital exclusion.
We will work closely with organisations such as Inclusion Scotland to ensure that all the resources we develop are inclusive to disabled people and meet accessibility standards. We will launch a new advocacy service in January to ensure those who, owing to a disability, require an advocate's help to engage with the Scottish social security system get the support and outcomes they want and need.
So far, no issues have been raised by stakeholders or through our research in relation gender reassignment. We will continue to engage with relevant organisations to ensure any resources developed support equality of outcomes for this group.
Marriage and civil partnership
So far, no issues have been raised by stakeholders or through our research in relation marriage and civil partnership. We will continue to monitor insight gained as we engage with stakeholders to ensure any resources developed ensure equality of outcomes for this group.
Pregnancy and Maternity
The consultation process identified opportunities for collaboration with health services to build on the links already made by Local Delivery, such as the Special Needs and Pregnancy service in Glasgow which targets pregnant women who are particularly vulnerable.
Representatives from the Care and Learning Alliance Childcare sit within our Stakeholder Take-up Reference Group to represent their clients who share this protected characteristic and we will work with them to ensure that their views are represented.
As well as proactively writing to inform people they may be eligible for Best Start Grant, we will continue to build referral pathways with a range of organisations so that people are actively referred to Social Security Scotland for further support during maternity.
We are aware of the particular barriers faced by ethnic minorities, especially those with English as a second language. Recent data published by the Department for Work and Pensions show that, while certain BME groups are more likely to receive income-related benefits, the percentage of families claiming some form of state support is highest among white people.
Social Security Scotland currently creates all its promotional materials in seven alternative community languages – Farsi, Polish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Gaelic and Urdu – with other languages available on request. We will ensure that this inclusive approach is embedded across the system and will engage relevant with stakeholders to this end.
Religion or belief
No issues have been raised by stakeholders or through our consultation in relation religion or belief. We will continue to engage with relevant organisations to ensure any resources developed support equality of outcomes for people of all religions and belief, while working with faith groups to support awareness of benefits.
So far, no issues have been raised by stakeholders or through our research in relation to sexual orientation. We will continue to engage with relevant organisations to ensure any resources developed support equality of outcomes for people of all sexual orientations.
Engender's recent report Securing Women's Futures shows women are twice as dependent on social security as men, with 20% of women's income coming from the benefits and tax credit system, compared with 10% of men's. In addition, devolved benefits such as Best Start Grant and Scottish Child Payment are more likely to be claimed by women.
We will continue to work with trusted intermediaries such as Engender, and make use of signposting opportunities such as those embedded in the NHS and other services focussed on support for women, to improve women's access to, and engagement with, the social security system.
Since the first Benefit Take-up Strategy was published in October 2019, significant focus has been placed on engagement with the Protected Characteristics groups – as defined by the Equality Act 2010. The 2018 Act places a duty upon the Scottish Government to engage with these groups. However, during the engagement process, several additional 'seldom-heard' groups were identified as being important to this second Benefit Take-up Strategy.
Seldom-heard groups are likely to experience reduced access to, or take-up of, the Scottish benefits they are entitled to. These groups include:
- Gypsy/Traveller communities
- low skilled migrant workers
- care experienced people
- kinship and foster carers
- adoptive parents
- single parents
- young parents
- people with experience of homelessness
- people who have offended, including prisoners and people who have been released from prison and their families
- people affected by HIV and hepatitis
- people fleeing domestic abuse/ coercive relationships
- survivors of abuse
- people with terminal illnesses
- bereaved families including parents
One of the first steps to achieve greater inclusion of seldom-heard groups has been to build new relationships with many stakeholders not previously engaged with during the first Strategy. Throughout 2021 Scottish Government officials met with many stakeholders representing the various seldom-heard groups in order to obtain an understanding of the key issues and barriers their client group face in relation to accessing Scottish benefits. We will ensure these voices continue to be represented in our policy work going forward.
Stakeholder Engagement Informing Tailored Approaches
In order to increase benefit take-up among people with protected characteristics and seldom-heard groups, we are building collaborative relationships with organisations on the ground. Their experience and expertise is central to an accurate understanding of what the real issues are for these groups, and to informing work to break down the identified barriers to take-up.
Scottish Government officials will continue to engage closely with the stakeholders supporting the most vulnerable and marginalised communities. Stakeholder involvement is crucial to our progress because of the value of knowledge and experience on the ground, in communities, and gained through existing trusted relationships. We will work to resolve the issues and barriers identified for these communities by collaborating closely with the Third Sector, local delivery partners and Social Security Scotland.
Social Security Scotland's stakeholder engagement will ensure that any organisation that could potentially support clients or be impacted by what we do is aware of its service. This engagement activity will help to build relationships with a wide range of national and local stakeholders. Social Security Scotland will build bilateral relationships with different organisations and also work with local strategic planning groups to ensure our organisation is joined up with other local services.
We will also build stronger links across the Scottish Government. For example, in recognition that limited engagement work had been carried out with seldom-heard groups, collaborative work was undertaken with other relevant policy areas across the Scottish Government to gather broad insight on groups which could be identified as requiring greater inclusion in this strategy. This information was used to inform the stakeholder engagement process.
Call for contributions
In July we issued a call for contributions to a wide network of stakeholders representing all of the protected characteristics. The call focussed on gathering stakeholder views on the barriers faced by the groups they represent in accessing Social Security Benefits.
Mainstreaming Good Practice Consultation
A managed consultation was carried out with members of the Take-up Stakeholder Reference Group and a range of other stakeholders put forward by members. Feedback was received from stakeholders on the main barriers to benefit take-up, including feedback from client groups representing seldom-heard groups and groups with protected characteristics, and respondents were invited to suggest approaches to addressing these.
Benefit Take-Up Stakeholder Round Table Events
The Scottish Government hosted a series of stakeholder "round table" events in the autumn of 2021, which focussed on working with stakeholders from protected characteristics and seldom-heard groups. The aim of these events was to encourage discussion amongst stakeholders and gather feedback on how to best support the two key goals of:
- Mainstreaming good practice, and;
- Tackling barriers to benefit take-up.
The Round Table events were a great success - both for the sharing of information and good practice between stakeholders, and for the learning that policy officials took away from the events. This learning will be applied to policy work going forward to drive benefit take-up. We want our stakeholders to feel valued and be at the centre of the work that the Scottish Government is carrying out to improve benefit take-up.
The Social Security Experience Panels were established in 2017 as the main mechanism to bring the voices of those with lived experience into the design, delivery, oversight and review of Scotland's new social security system. Over 2,400 people who have experience of at least one of the benefits that have been devolved to Scotland joined the Experience Panels.
Social Security Scotland's ongoing work to research the experiences of people accessing the social security system is supporting continuous improvements to the system and addressing identified barriers to access are preventing benefit take-up.
Findings from the Experience Panels have also informed stakeholder engagement and will continue to do so with a planned programme of research which allows for more targeted engagement to be made with the seldom-heard groups requiring the most support to increase benefit take-up.
This new research, which extends the range of voices heard within Experience Panels, has now commenced, and will be ongoing throughout 2021 and beyond. It will target the most vulnerable, sensitive and marginalised communities, as listed above, with an emphasis on take-up, and with ensuring that these voices are also informing the design of Social Security in Scotland.
Summary of Key Insights Gained from Stakeholder Engagement
The following sections sets out some of the key findings from the stakeholder engagement through our various work streams.
1. Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic – Many organisations highlighted that difficulties in finding the right support to access benefits has been exacerbated by the pandemic due to restrictions and services being reduced or adapted. Specific reference was made to the lack of face-to-face appointments and reliance on digital platforms being a barrier to benefit take-up for particular communities, for example the Gypsy/Traveller community and the those who are homeless.
Feedback suggests that financial exclusion has been magnified as a result of the pandemic and there has been a significant increase in demand for access to welfare support, in particular the Scottish Welfare Fund, food banks, and support for children. For many, it will be their first time using the Social Security system, and various factors, from digital illiteracy to a general lack of awareness of Scottish Benefits, have represented barriers to benefit take-up.
We have listened to our stakeholders and we are drawing in the rich evidence they have provided to consider how we mitigate for both the immediate and the longer-term impacts of the pandemic.
2. Staff Diversity and appropriate training – It has been suggested by stakeholders that increasing the diversity of workers and volunteers as well as ensuring appropriate training is needed to encourage more people with varying needs to utilise the services available to them. Ensuring the teams delivering the services are relatable and diverse will reduce stigma and social barriers and may encourage more people to approach available services.
For example, stakeholders representing Single Parents and Young Parents identified the lack of relatable people providing services and advice as a factor limiting benefit take-up, and cultural differences can cause misunderstanding and misinterpretation resulting in many not seeing an application process through to the end, or approaching it at all.
Experience Panel research indicates that for those who have experienced trauma (often associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or sexual abuse), assessment staff were often not equipped with the appropriate training to deal with these sensitive issues.
Social Security Scotland is adopting the Trauma Informed Approach to tackle this issue. This approach will be fully integrated into policies, procedures and practices. Social Security Scotland places a huge emphasis within staff training on ensuring staff understand how to communicate effectively with clients, as well as on the application of organisational values in practice and supporting diversity among staff. The emphasis is on ensuring that clients are supported through the entire process.
In response to gaining a better understanding of the barriers to take-up, we are implementing interventions that will help to break these barriers down, and these are described throughout this strategy. We know that solving many of the issues raised by our stakeholders cannot be done overnight, but by taking the right steps we are moving towards a more positive future for benefit take-up and for the people that are rely on the benefit system.
We will work with our stakeholders to find out what more is needed for each individual seldom-heard group and liaise with local delivery partners to deliver the appropriate support.
3. Digital Exclusion – This issue was frequently raised during the stakeholder engagement process. A lack of digital connectivity can be a barrier to take-up, particularly in the Scottish Highlands and other remote, rural locations. A lack of suitable hardware (mostly from the cost of acquiring this) and poor digital literacy also contribute. Digital exclusion has been exacerbated by the pandemic due to there being less support available face-to-face and reduced walk-in services.
From Experience Panel research, for example, evidence shows that not having a mobile phone, or the ability to regularly check social security websites and receive updates and appointment details is a significant barrier to accessing social security services for those living on the streets.
For many, the advances in our digital application channels have made applying for benefits easier, however for some of the most vulnerable groups, digital platforms pose a challenge, and in some cases a barrier. We will make our application routes as simple as possible – for example, the single application form for five family payments – and take a multi-channel approach to give clients as much choice about how they access our services as possible. We will engage further with our seldom-heard stakeholders and liaise with local delivery personnel to assess what more can be done to support those that are digitally limited.
We understand that what limits one person, or one vulnerable group, digitally, may not be the limiting factor for another person, and another vulnerable group. That is why ensuring that we adopt a person-centred approach is so important. It is not one size fits all when it comes to breaking down the digital barriers experienced by people using the benefits system. There are many reasons why one could be limited digitally and we will work closely with our stakeholder groups to identify specifically what these reasons are.
4. Language – For some groups specific reference has been made to difficulties arising with literacy skills due to a lack of education, or being put off by the use of complicated language on websites. In addition, for those who do not speak English, or do not have English as their first language, having problems accessing information, forms and support in the appropriate language can be a barrier. For refugees, migrant workers and the Gypsy/Traveller community, language has been highlighted by stakeholders representing these groups as one of the main driving forces behind low take-up.
Client-facing content from Social Security Scotland is written for reading age 9 where appropriate, and follows content design best practice to make information as clear as possible to as wide a group of people as possible. Research undertaken into this issue through experience panels in relation to ethnic minorities can be found in the following report - Social Security Experience Panels - ethnic minorities: report - gov.scot (www.gov.scot).
Social Security Scotland is committed to communicating in an inclusive way. We are working closely with stakeholders to embed inclusive communication principles across everything that we do. The current service includes:
- Promotional benefit information proactively produced in 10 community languages, selected through consultation with stakeholders, as well as Easy Read, and we work with stakeholders to get this content into the hands of those who need it;
- Interpretation, Translation and Transcription services in over 100 languages
- British Sign Language (BSL) video relay service, available through Contact Scotland
- Deafblind interpreters, Text Relay and electronic note taker services
- All letters, information and guidance are available in Braille, Large Print, Easy Read and various Audio formats
- Online content compatible with screen reader software on Jaws, Voiceover and Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) platforms.
Social Security Scotland has developed an e-learning module to ensure staff understand what inclusive communication is and how to apply the principles in their individual work. We will continue to work closely with stakeholders to identify how to overcome any additional difficulties faced by our seldom-heard groups.
5. Stigma – Stigma as a barrier to take-up is an issue felt across all the seldom-heard groups engaged with so far. It is also evidenced in Experience Panel research, where some participants felt stigmatised and discriminated against when interacting with staff from the benefit agencies. An Experience Panels project specifically exploring the impact of stigma on take-up was published in March.
Examples gathered through stakeholder engagement of seldom-heard groups feeling stigmatised include:
- In the homeless community, many members have had negative experiences with authority and are therefore reluctant to engage again. There can also be a fear of authority due to personal experience or hearing about others' experiences.
- Long-standing cultural beliefs born from stigma can be carried through communities from one generation to the next. Insight shows, for example, that the Gypsy/Traveller community see stigma as a barrier to building the trusted relationships which are so important for members of the community to engage with services.
- Stakeholders representing veterans, the terminally ill, single parents and refugees all indicated strongly during engagement that stigma was one of the main drivers of low benefit take-up.
We recognise that access to Social Security is a human right and therefore no person should be, or feel, discriminated against when accessing the benefits they are entitled to.
We will work alongside stakeholders and engage with those with lived experience to understand and work together to remove the factors which are driving stigma.
6. Lack of Awareness and Information – Lack of awareness and difficulty knowing where to find information about the benefits a person is entitled to is a key barrier to take-up, and much work has been carried out to address this and make the social security system as simple to access as possible.
Experience Panel research has evidenced difficulties with this issue across carers, for example, where we have found that within the caring community there is confusion and lack of awareness about benefit eligibility. Many carers who carry out caring roles do not necessarily identify as carers. This is a particular issue within ethnic minority communities and also Gypsy/Travellers. A lack of information and lack of awareness of what being a carer means can cause confusion over whether a person is carrying out a caring role, resulting in carers not accessing the benefits they are entitled to.
We will work alongside stakeholders to ensure that people get the right information at the right time, in the right place. For example, information on Best Start Grant will be placed in the Baby Box that is issued to all new parents, and in midwife and health visitor information packs.
Each of our benefits has a tailored communication and engagement strategy in order to optimise the dissemination of information. A key focus of these strategies is getting tailored communications to under-represented client groups or people who need information in different formats.
7. Complex Systems – Many stakeholders we have engaged with highlighted that their clients find accessing and applying for benefits confusing and time consuming because of complex systems. Much of this evidence relates to UK Government benefit applications, and a great deal of work has been done by Social Security Scotland to simplify application processes. However, we will work with our stakeholders to identify barriers for our most vulnerable groups how to resolve them. This is an issue for which there is ongoing support through Experience Panel research.
We are developing our application forms alongside the people who will use them to make them as user friendly as possible. Application forms for our current benefits are short and intended to be easy to use. Social Security Scotland is there to support people through the process and phone and web chat with the Local Delivery service is being implemented, providing clients with additional options for support.
Ensuring that our stakeholders are aware of the services available through the Local Delivery service is also a key tool to addressing this issue. Part of the support available through Local Delivery will be help for people in the completion of forms. People should also be able to access independent advice regarding their social security benefits, so we will work with the advice sector to ensure agencies have the information they need to be able to advise people effectively.
Case study: Low-income Families and Older People - Money Talk Team
The Money Talk Team income maximisation service commenced in November 2018 and is targeted at low income families, in particular the six priority groups most at risk of poverty, and older people. It is delivered by the Citizens Advice Network in Scotland and aims to ensure that people are receiving everything they are entitled to and not paying more than they need to for basic goods and services.
Since its launch almost 40,000 clients have accessed the service. Of those, 17,317 clients are better off by over £34 million, averaging almost £2,000 per household.
Between November 2019 and July 2021 the service has supported nearly 28,000 clients and helped over 12,000 of those secure financial gains of £24.3 million. This is an average of £2,000 per household.
With the pandemic impacting family incomes, it is important, more than ever, to make sure people are claiming all the benefits they are entitled to. To help raise awareness of the service and the support this initiative can provide, a national six week marketing campaign was launched in January 2021. The multi-media campaign was specifically aimed at low income families and reached people through radio, TV and social media, encouraging them to access the Money Talk Team service. Workshops were also delivered in partnership with BEMIS, the umbrella body that supports the development of the Ethnic Minorities Voluntary Sector in Scotland, to increase awareness of the service in these populations.
The Citizens Advice Network will continue to deliver on-going local promotional events and awareness sessions at key forums and other collaborative groups with partner organisations. This has led to national partnerships being strengthened with organisations including Home Energy Scotland, with referrals being made between services helping realise gains of £47,035 for clients. Citizens Advice Scotland is also working closely with Social Security Scotland on the pilot for Child Disability Payments, which is being held in in three local authority areas over the summer of 2021. As at July 2021, the Money Talk Team service had advised 58 clients on the new benefit, delivering financial gains of £13,263.
Adviser Engagement Sessions have also been held to establish close working relationship between bureaux and their local Family Nurse Partnerships to ensure new families and vulnerable parents are fully supported. This is in addition to the local partnerships developed, which vary from establishing referral routes and training opportunities to co-location. Partners include foodbanks, housing associations, local authorities and health and social care partnerships, ensuring strong links across Scotland.
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