8. Principle 5: Continuously learn and improve
In applying this principle, we will:
- Ensure that we apply the learning we have gained since the publication of the first Strategy to the implementation of the commitments we have made in this Strategy.
- Continue to monitor and evaluate the success of initiatives we are funding and use this information to guide work going forward,
- Work to collect more data on promoting benefit take-up to more accurately identify what works, and also what does not work.
- When working collaboratively with others learn from their successes and evaluate how these successes can be applied to other initiatives or ways of working.
- Understand that this strategy is an evolving document which guides us to fulfil our aim of increasing benefit take-up, but that as we learn we will adapt based upon that learning. Society is flexible and changes continuously, therefore the ways in which we implement the work we have committed to needs to be flexible too.
We commissioned an interim evaluation on Best Start Grant to provide insight into the implementation of the benefit and the extent to which its objectives have been met. Published on 15 December 2020, the report found that the Best Start Grant was viewed very positively by interviewed recipients.
We will undertake further engagement with stakeholders to ensure we gather views from minority ethnic communities. These views will inform potential improvements to further raise awareness and encourage take-up.
The interim evaluation provided some suggestions for improving awareness of Best Start Grant. The suggested activities were either already in place, or had been planned e.g. invite to apply and the use of TV and social media to improve awareness. We will work with Social Security Scotland and our stakeholders to ensure we promote Best Start Grant effectively to increase take-up.
We will undertake an evaluation of Funeral Support Payment which will involve qualitative research of both client and stakeholder experience. The findings from the evaluation, ongoing monitoring of policy and regular engagement with stakeholders will help inform any future changes and improvements that can be made.
We will commission a further evaluation, to report in 2025, on families who have received all three Best Start Grant payments in relation to the same child.
We will shortly begin an evaluation of Best Start Foods policy, which will be published next year, in order to further understand the impact of Best Start Foods and to help inform future policy development and improvements.
We are committed to continuously improving the information available for funeral support payment, we will review web content for FSP and any related death and bereavement information to ensure information is up to date and is easily accessible to those applying for FSP to make it easy for eligible applicants to apply and encourage take-up.
We have completed an interim evaluation of Young Carer Grant. Social Security Scotland will continue to promote Young Carer Grant to help increase awareness and take-up of the grant. The findings from this report will be used to improve the impact of this work when considering future promotion.
The issues highlighted in this evaluation will be considered when reviewing benefit promotion activity and the application process. More broadly, the findings will be considered when developing future Young Carer Grant policy and Scottish Carer's Assistance, to complement existing and planned interventions to support carers both through social security and at a wider government level.
Carer Benefits Advisory Group
The Carer Benefits Advisory Group will set up an Inclusive Communications Working Group to help us identify and address any gaps in our communications. The Group will hold an annual Equalities and Carer Benefits Review, to help us identify gaps and opportunities in our work to ensure our policies are informed by equalities data and that we maximise the reach of these policies.
Both of these will build on wider Social Security Scotland analysis to date, for example on Seldom-heard Groups, and carer specific identification work, for example the recent presentation to the Carer Voice Officials Group by a Welfare Rights Advisor on the 'carer journey'. They will also be closely integrated with wider SG support for carers.
We have committed to undertake a review of Adult Disability Payment in summer 2023, a year after Adult Disability Payment has rolled out. This is to ensure that people in receipt of Adult Disability Payment will be able to provide their valuable feedback and experiences of the process so far. Following this, a report will be written at the end of the review which will make recommendations on what the group thinks should change about Adult Disability Payment.
A further extensive consultation on Employment Injury Assistance (EIA) will be undertaken in advance of the new delivery date to ensure that we identify as many opportunities to improve this benefit as possible, within the limitations of Scotland's devolution settlement.
Future legislation for Pension Age Disability Payment will be subject to scrutiny by the Scottish Commission on Social Security and wider stakeholder engagement.
Scottish Ministers continue to work with and receive recommendations and advice from the Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group on priority developments for policy reform.
The disability benefits evaluation programme will gather understanding of the impact of benefits being delivered has on recipients and how we can improve policy to better meet their needs.
Benefit Take-up and Income Maximisation Funds
We will use the learning gained through evaluation of the Benefit Take-up and Income Maximisation Funds to shape our approach to improving benefit take-up within seldom-heard groups.
The First Benefit Take-Up Strategy introduced 2 time-limited and targeted funds which were open to applications from voluntary organisations:
- A £500,000 Benefit Take-up Fund to assist organisations who are preparing their services and staff to support people who will be applying for Scottish benefits.
- A £100,000 Income Maximisation Fund to assist organisations who support people to increase their household incomes, with an emphasis on ensuring people are aware of the financial support available to them.
Through the Benefit Take-Up and Income Maximisation Funds a total of 26 bodies from across the country received allocations to support hard to reach groups, single parents and people with particular barriers such as mental or physical disabilities to apply for Scottish social security benefits.
Each of the funds had built in monitoring and evaluation activity to ensure that learning from the projects could be easily disseminated and will be used to inform future efforts to increase benefit take-up, with grant holders having access to a programme of evaluation support throughout the lifetime of their project.
Impact of COVID-19
Since COVID-19 has had a significant impact on timescales for delivery of a number of Scottish Benefits, and on the capacity of organisation, officials worked closely with each of the organisations to ensure that they remained viable in the face of the pandemic.
Where proposed projects were no longer viable in their initial form, they were reframed to provide take-up and income maximisation support in the context of the Coronavirus crisis. These changes largely concerned shifting from face-to-face delivery to a more technology-focused solution, or on refocussing activity from the delayed benefits to those which are currently available.
As a result of the challenges faced by many of the organisations, the timescales for several of the projects were also extended beyond their initial end date of March 2021 to ensure their viability, with several moving into summer and autumn 2021.
The final reporting received to date indicates that the funding has helped to achieve broad outcomes. It has provided training for over 650 individuals and organisations to ensure they were prepared to give advice on Scottish Benefits. It has allowed an additional 5,129 individuals access to direct support and increased income by around £2 million.
Though the approaches taken across the 26 funded projects were diverse, and their key audiences varies, several key themes are clear from the final reporting received by the funded organisation.
A Variety of Channels
As the organisations responded to the challenges of the pandemic and face to face engagement became more difficult, a more diverse and technology-driven suite of communication styles was embraced. In the main this proved to be extremely successful, with many of the organisations citing examples of practices adopted during this time which would be adopted on a permanent basis. However, these solutions are not universal, and a holistic approach is always necessary.
A Joined Up Approach and The Trusted Intermediary
Many of the organisations cite the importance of a joined up approach to Benefit Take-up and Income Maximisation between different organisations, especially while delivering during challenging times. Organisations evidenced in their learning how this funding had helped enable this joined up working, by allowing them to build networks and robust referral pathways. Other organisations demonstrated where the lack of building a joined up approach could lead to duplication across organisations to the detriment of shared goals.
The reporting also demonstrates the importance of the trusted intermediary within this joined-up approach. It is clear that, while talking about financial difficulties can be challenging, a trusted professional with existing ties to the community, can increase the likelihood of take-up.
Stigma is one of the key barriers to benefit take-up and it is clear from the reporting that it remains difficult to overcome even by organisations with specialist knowledge of the targeted group.
As part of our work on mainstreaming good practice, we will capture and disseminate all the learning related to what has proved successful at engaging individual seldom-heard groups, so that approached can replicated in the future both by the Scottish Government and across the third sector.
The Experience Panels programme of research is one way we've ensured that the voice of people with lived experience of the benefits coming to Scotland is heard in decisions across the design of social security in Scotland.
In Social Security Scotland we have continued this person-centred approach to data collection for continuous improvement. This includes the set-up of our own Client Panels and Client Survey. Our programme of research with our clients will allow us to understand how they are experiencing our service, identify areas where we can improve, and involve our clients in developing our service. For example, we have asked Experience and Client Panel members about what difference COVID-19 has made to how they want to engage with Social Security Scotland. https://www.gov.scot/publications/social-security-client-experience-panels-research-effects-coronavirus-pandemic-communication-preferences/
A key part of the Experience Panels' work was the co-design of Our Charter for Social Security Scotland, and a Charter Measurement Framework to track progress against the commitments in Our Charter. We now have a substantial programme of data collection for the Charter Measurement Framework, including research with clients, staff and stakeholders. The focus of the framework is how people have experienced engaging with Social Security Scotland, and it includes measures on accessibility, communication and experiences with staff. This forms part of our Annual Reporting and supports continuous improvement within the organisation.
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