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Publication - Minutes

Best Start Grant Reference Group minutes: February 2017

Minutes of the second meeting of the Best Start Grant Reference Group, which took place on 6 February 2017.

Attendees and apologies

Attendees:

  • Poverty Alliance
  • Child Poverty Action Group
  • Save the Children
  • Scottish Women’s Convention
  • One Parent Families Scotland
  • COSLA
  • Tackling Poverty Team, South Lanarkshire
  • Early Years Scotland
  • Scottish Government
  • Engender
  • Children, Young People & Families Services, Dundee Health

Non-Attendees

  • Barnardo’s
  • Scottish Womens Convention
  • Maternity Action
  • NHS Scotland
  • Parent Network Scotland
  • SLGP

Items and actions

Item 1: Consultation Findings and Discussion

Update from Scottish Government

The group agreed the minutes of the last meeting without any amendments. The Scottish Government then provided a quick update on the work on-going to establish the social security experience panels, the Healthy Start Vouchers (HSV) short term working group and the system design work which would form part of the second half of the meeting.

Consultation Findings

As the consultation analysis had not yet been published officials from the Best Start Grant (BSG) team gave an informal overview of the consultation findings based on their reading of the responses. The main themes emerging from the consultation in relation to the BSG were:

  • the majority of respondents were content with the proposed structure of BSG
  • most welcomed additional payments and reintroduction of payments to subsequent children
  • most were in favour of the widest affordable eligibility
  • respondents saw effective promotion and increased awareness of the grant as the key to success.

Discussion

The group then moved on to discuss some of these high level findings. There was a discussion about different approaches to eligibility. It was suggested that if the BSG is designed in a way to try and include as many families as possible, it won’t impact on the inequalities faced by the poorest people in Scotland. On the other hand it was highlighted that less targeted interventions can increase take up among all the people who are eligible, both people in need and those on higher incomes, and reduce stigma people on slightly higher incomes may also be at risk if their circumstances change. Some members of the group were keen to widen eligibility to include Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction. It was highlighted that the inclusion of these benefits would allow for some applicants to apply before the birth of their child and could increase uptake as it could help to simplify the process.

There was a discussion about how the BSG eligibility will relate to HSV and other provision such as Free School Meals or the eligible 2’s criteria and whether these could be aligned. It was highlighted that it could be beneficial to have different eligibility criteria for various interventions as this wouldn’t create an ‘all or nothing’ approach to the support available to families throughout the early years. Local Authorities are being encouraged to focus on supporting those in the lowest income decile and focusing eligibility more would help achieve this. This is relevant where applicants may be referred for help from other services when they apply for a grant as wide eligibility may have a knock on effect on those services, i.e broad eligibility will mean larger volume of people looking for support. A sliding scale was suggested, to reduce payments to people on higher incomes and it was noted that this would increase complexity and administration costs.

The Scottish Government outlined how members’ views on the various different eligibility criteria would be taken in to account in determining eligibility criteria alongside work to model the processes for the grant and consultation findings. Part of the consideration is that the BSG is part of a wider programme of work delivering all of the newly devolved benefits and decisions will need to ensure a safe and secure transition to the new social security system. Further refinement may be possible in the longer term.

Leading on from this discussions focused on the outcomes and aims of the BSG. It was agreed that the BSG would help families who are facing additional expenses at key points during the early years. It was also agreed it would be important to link the outcomes of BSG with other key interventions and targets within early years. Connected to this, the group agreed that the success of BSG will depend on how well it is integrated into other policies and pathways. The Scottish Government agreed that this was important and they will be looking at how they promote the support and different provisions being offered during the early years. The decision on the configuration of the social security agency will be relevant to this.

Session 2

The second session was led by officials from the Scottish Government User Research Team, who are working with policy colleagues and a system design team to explore how an integrated system of the BSG and HSV scheme would work. This session focused on discussing current barriers or obstacles faced by those parents applying for SSMG and HSV and trying to map out how this could affect parents applying for BSG.

It was acknowledged that combining both could be problematic in regards to branding and communication. The main concerns raised from the group focused on whether integration would dilute from the health intervention aspect of HSV and the difficulties connected to having two different sets of eligibility. It was raised that the latter point could deter people from applying, eg, the know they are not entitled to HSV so don’t apply for BSG either.

Other points raised during this session included:

  • highlighting that parents tend to have different levels of access to devices and broadband
  • parents struggle to use libraries/job centres to fill in forms online, as they aren’t family friendly or don’t want to be putting in personal information in public places
  • there is a lack of translation services within the current welfare system and support services connected to welfare and health for parents whose first language is not English
  • vouchers could be stigmatising and put people off applying for either benefit, so user research needs to look at how parents would feel about receiving vouchers, loaded cards and cash

Actions

  • As agreed at the last meeting the Scottish Government will continue to work with other relevant policy teams to ensure that the messaging around early years provision is joined up
  • the Scottish Government will carry out user research in regards to integrating HSV and BSG
  • members are again asked to suggest a representative from Education

Item 3: AOB Next Meeting

The Scottish Government will be in touch with potential dates for the next meeting.

Contact

Email: Elizabeth Sloan

Published:
19 Apr 2017
Best Start Grant Reference Group minutes: February 2017