The Welfare Foods (Best Start Foods) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2023: Fairer Scotland duty assessment summary

Assesses the impact of changes to Best Start Foods on socio-economic inequality. This duty came into force in Scotland in 2018 and is set out in Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010. It considers issues such as low income, low wealth and area deprivation.

Summary of evidence

Policy Context

In 2019-22, it is estimated that 24% of children (250,000 children each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2019-22. Before housing costs, it is estimated that 22% of children (230,000 children each year) were in relative poverty.[7] Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, projections indicated that if no further action were taken to tackle child poverty one in three children in Scotland would grow up in poverty by 2030, damaging society and the economy.[8] The impact of COVID-19 on child poverty levels is still largely unknown, particularly the long term effects on families and our economy, however we know that the impacts have been felt most acutely by the most disadvantaged in our society.

Children in low income households tend to experience a range of disadvantages which can accumulate throughout their lives. For example, poverty negatively affects children's health, social, emotional and cognitive development, and also their behavioural and educational outcomes.[9] The growing evidence in developed economies suggests that gaining additional income has positive causal effects on health, behavioural development and educational attainment for children in households at the lower end of income distribution.[10]

The TCPDP[11] identifies three main drivers of child poverty reduction: increasing incomes from work and earnings; reducing household costs; and maximising incomes from social security and benefits in kind. The FFP help to tackle the cuts to social security entitlements made by the UK Government, providing additional financial support to low income families.

The TCPDP identifies priority family types, which are more likely to experience child poverty and are therefore more likely to require social security support:

  • lone parent families;
  • families with a disabled adult or child;
  • families with more than three children;
  • minority ethnic families;
  • families with a child under one; and
  • families with a mother who is under 25.

The TCPDP commits to addressing these socioeconomic inequalities through its child poverty reduction policies and measures (including BSF), stating that they must impact positively on each of these groups.

This FSD assessment has considered the impacts that these amendment regulations will have on these priority family types. BSF targets support to low income families with a pregnant person and/or a child or children under the age of three. It is therefore also appropriate to consider the socioeconomic inequalities experienced by other cohorts/characteristics, and the likely impact of the changes on them. These include:

  • children;
  • sex; and
  • pregnancy and maternity.

We have drawn on existing research to fully understand the impact that the changes will have on these groups of people. Demographic information played an important role in the evidence base, building on the work already undertaken as part of the TCPDP[12] and more broadly on child poverty. We considered Scottish Government, UK Government data, stakeholder reports and insights.

Stakeholder Engagement

There has been policy engagement with stakeholders throughout the development of BSF and since launch. We have also held a number of meetings with our Five Family Payments Reference Group which is made up of a number of key stakeholders with an interest in the policy area, including Child Poverty Action Group, Citizens Advice Scotland, Engender and a number of other groups. At our meeting in March 2023, we provided the Five Family Payments Reference Group with an overview of our proposed changes and following this we met separately with some of the individual members.

The overall feedback we received was positive. Removal of the income thresholds was welcomed by stakeholders and considered to be particularly helpful for people who do seasonal work, have variable incomes or are on flexible contracts. It was noted that the existing threshold for UC can prevent parents accepting work that is paid at the real Living Wage. A risk was also highlighted that people who currently lose entitlement due to breaching the income thresholds (and who do not fall below the threshold within 12 weeks of losing their entitlement) might not reclaim when their income reduces again, resulting in individuals not receiving the support they are entitled to. Providing a further eight weeks entitlement to BSF when entitlement to Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit or Housing Benefit ends was also viewed positively and considered to be especially helpful when issues arise with qualifying benefits which can take some time to resolve. Changes to improve access to BSF for young parents were also welcomed and it was anticipated that they would help improve uptake. Making Working Tax Credit (WTC) a qualifying benefit in its own right was viewed as particularly positive for some pregnant persons and also for some carers who are not responsible for the child for Child Tax Credit (CTC) purposes, e.g. some kinship carers. In general, further aligning eligibility for BSF with BSG and SCP was also received positively as it was acknowledged that the differences in eligibility can be confusing for some parents.

We consulted with island stakeholders as part of the Islands Community Impact Assessment process and some of the feedback raised by islands stakeholders was relevant to this impact assessment. They noted that BSF helps to address stigma and improve the health and wellbeing of pregnant persons and children. They also felt that BSF could contribute to better educational outcomes. They welcomed the policy changes which will result in BSF being more accessible for low income families. However, they also cautioned that by allowing the individual who a pregnant person is dependent upon to be eligible to receive BSF, the independence of the young person could be adversely affected and it could make them vulnerable to abuse from coercive grandparents. To mitigate this risk, the regulations ensure that an application from the pregnant person will always take precedence over applications from other entitled individuals. Where anyone other than the pregnant person is receiving BSF and an application from the pregnant person is received, Social Security Scotland will end the existing claim and pay the pregnant person instead. Where multiple applications are received in relation to a pregnancy but no application is made by the pregnant person themselves, the amendment regulations will provide Scottish Ministers with the power to decide who should be awarded BSF, having regard to the circumstances of the pregnant person. Furthermore, when either the partner of the pregnant person or the individual that the pregnant person is dependent upon or the partner of that individual is being paid BSF, the regulations state that they are only eligible if they are using BSF for the benefit of the pregnant person. If it is established that they are not using BSF for the benefit of the pregnant person, they are not eligible to receive BSF.

We have also engaged with the Scottish Women’s Convention, Scottish Women’s Aid, Inclusion Scotland, First Steps Nutrition Trust and Nourish Scotland. Overall, the feedback received was that the changes being made are very positive and progressive. Widening eligibility by removing the income thresholds was particularly welcomed. Changes which will make it easier for eligible families to access BSF were welcomed. Providing a further eight weeks entitlement to BSF when entitlement to Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit or Housing Benefit ends was specifically highlighted as a good example of how to treat individuals well. Putting it beyond doubt that people who might otherwise have difficulty accessing their entitlement can be paid in a way other than the prepaid card was seen to be very helpful.


We have carried out an evaluation of BSF[13] with an external contractor carrying out interviews with a number of clients and healthcare professionals on their experiences of the payment to date. The evaluation of BSF describes a number of positive findings. They show the benefit helps people buy a greater quantity (and quality) of healthy foods than they could without the benefit. Payments also support healthier shopping habits and meal planning. For example, recipients report purchasing healthier snacks for their children, and some experiment with new healthy recipes, without worrying about wasting money or food. BSF may be contributing to better health and wellbeing for children. Recipients report observing their children eating more and a greater variety of fruits and vegetables and feeling positive that they can provide their children with more nutritious foods. Recipients also experienced reduced levels of stress and anxiety in relation to finances as a result of receiving BSF. It had given participants a sense of relief knowing they could use it to buy healthy foods for their families. For some recipients it guarantees they can afford essential foods even when their finances are difficult. For others, the payments have freed up money for costs such as household bills. They also expressed relief as BSF enabled recipients to be financially independent, whereas they previously had to ask for support from other family members. This was reiterated by healthcare professionals who observed that their recipients were less burdened by financial worries. Healthcare professionals were pleased to see the positive impact BSF was having on the health and wellbeing of families as a preoccupation with finances could impact the relationship they had with their children.



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