Welfare Foods: consultation report

This consultation on meeting the needs of children and families in Scotland was published in April 2018 and invited views on our approach to Welfare Foods following the devolution through the Scotland Act 2016.

Views on the smartcard system

This chapter covers the comments raised in response to questions 2 and 3 about the new smartcard system. Generally, respondents felt that the proposed smartcard system was an improvement on the current paper vouchers, believing that it will reduce the stigma associated with Best Start Foods, increase uptake and make the system easier for users. Concerns were expressed by all types of respondents, and particularly by retailers, that local shops and co-operatives that do not currently accept card payments will be excluded from the system, ultimately to the detriment of users.

The following points are covered in this chapter:

  • Suggestions for making the system user-friendly
  • Awareness raising and support for retailers
  • How to make the smartcard system work for retailers
  • Value of the smartcard and eligible foods
  • Ensuring correct use of the smartcard
  • How to gather feedback and improve the system as it evolves.

Each of these points will now be discussed in turn.

3.1 How to make smartcards work for users

There was a consensus amongst respondents that, for the system to work, users should be able to have a real choice of retail establishments in which to use the smartcard and therefore as many retailers as possible should be involved in the system. This point was made particularly in relation to users in rural or island communities, and it was felt their choice and access to affordable and healthy food should not be constricted by the system. For example, Argyll and Bute Council stated that the smartcard system 'is no use if the nearest shop which accepts the smartcard is say 20 miles away'.

In addition, most respondents thought that smartcards should be easy to use, flexible, and designed in such a way to avoid users being stigmatised. Several suggestions were made about how to achieve this.

  • Providing users with clear and step-by-step guidance on how to use the card. This should be complemented by access to a support service – either through free phone line, a web service, or both
  • Enabling users to check their balance easily. It was suggested this could be done online, through an App, through text notifications, through a phone line or through printed receipts. It was highlighted that this would further remove stigma around the smartcard, as users could avoid situations in which they did not have enough funds for a purchase
  • Enabling users to use the smartcard flexibly by carrying forward any unused funds at the end of the four-week period. This would enable families to buy in bulk
  • Replace lost, stolen or damaged cards easily and timely, whilst providing interim solutions ( e.g. during a weekend). A suggestion for this would be to have a smartcard code that retailers could type in
  • Designing smartcards so that they look like bank cards. Have all the relevant information on them ( e.g. it was suggested that a list of eligible foods is included on the card, as well as a customer support number). A few respondents also suggested designing the smartcard as a key fob.

What parents and carers said:

‘Allow any left-over amount to accumulate so weekly amounts aren't wasted’. (Individual)

‘Keep it simple. Remember those who are illiterate and/or innumerate. Replace lost or stolen cards.’ (Individual)

‘A contactless system could be put in place that does not require the person using the card to have to explain what the card is for, thereby reducing the stigma that people can experience’. (One Parent Families Scotland)

3.2 Awareness raising and support for retailers

The removal of the need for retailers to register was viewed positively by a majority of respondents. However, many respondents felt that awareness raising across the retail sector would be necessary. Incentives for retailers to join the system were also mentioned by a few respondents. These could include material incentives, such as support rolling out card payment systems (see below); or recognition through an award or standard that retailers can work towards.

Some respondents highlighted the need for specific training and resources aimed at retailers. Particular emphasis was put on making retail staff aware of: the scheme and what foods are eligible, how to manage IT systems, how to remove stigma around the scheme, and how to treat users with dignity. Some respondents suggested that the support service mentioned in the previous section be made available to both users and retailers.

3.3 How to make the smartcard system work for retailers

Many respondents were concerned that the requirement to accept card payments would exclude many local shops, community growing schemes and vegetable box schemes from the system, and that this would limit users' access to affordable and healthy food through Best Start Foods. This point was made by all types of respondents, and particularly by retailers. The Scottish Grocers' Federation pointed out that '12% of convenience stores in Scotland do not accept card and debit payments'. It was also argued that local community retailers play an important community role and that they should therefore not be disadvantaged by the system.

The most frequently mentioned solutions to include small and community retailers in the system were:

  • Developing a Best Start Foods App for card-less payments and online purchases. An App was also a popular suggestion to enable users to manage their balance (see the next section) and for educational purposes (discussed in chapter 4). However, it was acknowledged that connectivity might be an issue in certain remote areas.
  • The Scottish Government supporting, through cheaper IT systems or grants, the roll-out of electronic point of sale ( EPOS) systems to all independent and community shops registered on the scheme.
  • Having a mixed paper voucher and EPOS system, with users able to decide which one to use. A few respondents suggested this would be just for a transitional period, allowing the necessary technology to be rolled out, whilst others wanted this choice as a permanent feature of the system.

What community retailers said:

‘Many community retailers don't have card machines (we are a third sector community retailer and only deal with cash). Have an app, that needs no card machine.’

Regarding retailers who already accept card payments, organisations representing retailers highlighted that a common ground needs to be found amongst the various systems used by retailers, ideally whilst leading to minimum change for retailers.

Additional concerns were mentioned specifically by retailers' representative organisations. These included:

  • The fact that retailers are charged for card payments. Therefore, in order for Best Start Foods to remain cost-neutral for retailers, the Scottish Government should either work with payment providers to ensure free smartcard payments or compensate retailers
  • Questions regarding the turnaround period for the reimbursement of payments
  • Questions about whether retailers would have to give change in cash if the whole value of the smartcard was not used up
  • That 'significant deviation from the UK approach will require new processes from retailers who operate across the UK, and that will require time to implement effectively' (Scottish Retail Consortium).

What retailers’ representative bodies said:

‘The smartcard ideally needs to adhere to existing standards.’ (National Federation of Retail Newsagents)

‘Most retailers will have different systems, and any smart card needs to be configured to ensure all current operators are able to accept the cards.’ (Scottish Retail Consortium)

‘PayPoint and PayZone are the operators who are most prevalent in the independent convenience store market […] a solution may be able to be reached to cover a very large number of stores by reaching agreement with those providers.’ (Scottish Grocers’ Federation)

3.4 Value of the smartcard and eligible foods

Many respondents welcomed the proposals included in the Consultation document to increase the weekly value of the Best Start Foods payment from £3.10 to £4.25 and to expand the range of eligible foods. Nevertheless, some respondents raised concerns regarding these two areas.

A few respondents, mainly organisations, believed that the new value of £4.25 was still too low to achieve the aims set out in the consultation document. A few respondents wanted to see a commitment to increase the value of the payments in line with the Retail Price Index (inflation). In addition, a few respondents suggested that the value of Best Start Foods payments should vary to reflect the cost of living in different areas of Scotland. Citizens Advice Scotland, for example, stated that:

' CAB research has revealed considerable differences between the costs of food in different areas within a local authority, meaning that a Best Start Foods payment is likely to buy a different amount of food in different areas, particularly in more rural locations. This may be a factor that the Scottish Government wants to consider in the wider design and delivery of the payment.' (Citizens Advice Scotland)

Regarding the proposed eligible foods, some respondents expressed concerns that vegetables and fruits tinned in sugar and salt should not be included in the scheme. For example, the First Steps Nutrition Trust advised that ' fruit canned in syrup is however counter to current health advice on sugar reduction and may have to be considered separately from canned vegetables'. A few respondents also believed that it would be beneficial for the foods included in Best Start Foods to overlap with those considered suitable under the Healthy Living retailers' scheme. It was noted that vegetables and fruits tinned with sugar and salt are excluded from this scheme.

A few respondents also pointed out that at present Healthy Start Vouchers are used mainly for infant formula and they requested clarification regarding which infant formula would be included in Best Start Foods. The First Steps Nutrition Trust warned that ' some milks that are marketed as to be used from birth are not suitable'. This view was echoed by other health-related organisations.

3.5 Ensuring correct use of the smartcard

Some respondents also highlighted that consideration should be taken of how to ensure that the smartcard system is not used inappropriately by either users or retailers. It was suggested that both users and retailers must have clear guidelines on what products are included in the scheme, and that mechanisms should be in place to prevent the purchase of other products through the card. It was also suggested that a personal chip and pin mechanism would ensure the card was used only by the intended user. More broadly, it was believed that an overarching mechanism should be in place for identifying and dealing with violations of the smartcard system.

3.6 How to gather feedback and improve the system as it evolves

The key stakeholders that were identified most frequently to seek feedback were: parents and families, retailers, health professionals, and early years practitioners. Other service providers, such as social and community workers, and foodbanks, were also identified as potential stakeholders to include in an evaluation of the scheme.

A wide range of methods of engagement were suggested to incorporate the views of all the groups mentioned earlier. Frequently these include more traditional methods – such as surveys, questionnaires, focus groups and interviews – but more innovative methods were suggested, particularly for engaging with users.

The need to consider innovative methods to engage users was pointed out by many respondents. These included collecting feedback from users through social media, an App, texts, or through quick surveys at the point of use, with possibilities for using 'emojis' in order to faciliate engagement or incentives to encourage participation. However, some respondents also thought that more in-depth views and experiences should also be gathered using qualitative methods such as case studies. Creating user reference groups that were involved in the design and evaluation of the system was also suggested by a few respondents.

Engagement of retailers through more traditional evaluation methods, such as surveys and focus groups, was seen as important by many respondents. It was suggested that this could be achieved through collaboration with trade associations.

In addition, the ability to collect data on uptake and usage from the smartcards was seen as a major benefit to the system in terms of monitoring and evaluation. It was suggested that uptake and usage data could be used to identify:

  • Areas of low and high uptake; whether smaller retailers were included in the system
  • The usage of the system in rural areas
  • What products were being consumed most.

Some respondents suggested for this data to be used to design the focus of the evaluation – e.g. by focusing on explaining areas with low uptake. A few respondents also suggested conducting trials or pilot schemes of the smartcard system and evaluating these, before rolling out the system fully.



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