Chapter 2: Context for the research
The strategic frameworks and legislation outlined in this chapter highlight areas of advice provision that are required to be provided from core public sector finances, and set out a framework for a way in which public sector organisations should discharge their responsibilities.
In addition, these frameworks and legislative requirements create the conditions for policy interventions that can augment the level of statutory provision. These include policy commitments from Scottish Government in the Scotland Act (2016) and the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Act 2014, Carers Rights and the Education Act, and the response from Scottish public sector organisations to mitigate the impact of welfare reform.
The policies outlined in this chapter provide important context for this review, including increasing emphasis on prevention and early intervention to decrease the need for more complex interventions later (a point underscored by the Christie Commission, amongst others), and the requirements for self-directed support meaning a culture shift in relationship with clients taking on more ownership and services needing to provide greater flexibility.
This review takes place at a time of significant change to public services. The environment within which publicly-funded advice services are being delivered has shifted considerably in recent years affecting both the number and type of people accessing advice services, and the types of issues with which they require support.
The organisations that fund and deliver advice services are broad in scope and, therefore, a wide range of public policy issues provide context for their work. Policy areas of particular relevance to the delivery of advice services are set out below.
Public Service Reform
The Christie Commission on the future delivery of public services (Christie 2011) was tasked with looking for solutions to the challenges facing public services in Scotland and produced its report in June 2011. This established four pillars for public sector reform: prevention, performance, people and partnership. All four of these pillars are relevant to advice service design and delivery, and later in this report we explore the extent to which these are currently being addressed by advice services. The four pillars set out a framework for public sector funders of advice services to focus on preventative action, to design services that are person centred, to create the conditions that enable partnership working and effectively capture and use evidence to inform future activity.
As part of the Scottish Government's response to the Christie Commission's recommendations (The Scottish Government 2011), it agreed to undertake a review of Community Planning. The Scottish Government and COSLA published the shared Statement of Ambition in 2012. This put Community Planning at the heart of an outcome-based approach to public services in Scotland. The Statement of Ambition made clear that effective community planning arrangements would sit at the core of public service reform, focusing on prevention and securing continuous improvement in public service delivery to achieve better outcomes for communities. Outcomes being delivered through advice services locally contribute to the delivery of these overarching outcomes.
Prevention and early intervention
There has been increasing interest in recent years in approaches focused on prevention and early intervention. This is driven partly by the need to find more resource-efficient ways to deliver public services in the context of reduced budgets and increased demand, as well as a recognition that preventative services can result in better outcomes for service users.
The Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services found that social and economic inequalities account for a significant element of the increasing demands on our public services, and that "a radical change in the design and delivery of public services is necessary… to tackle the deep-rooted social problems that persist in communities across the country" (Christie 2011, pVIII).
The Commission advocated "prioritising preventative measures to reduce demand and lessen inequalities" (pIX) and providing services that treat the root cause of problems, rather than treating the symptoms. That is, for example, providing advice and support to someone to prevent them getting into debt is preferable to helping that person when they are actually in debt, both in terms of the resources required to provide support, and the social, financial and health outcomes for the individual involved.
This principle is reflected in the Scottish Government's approach to tackling poverty, which "focuses on early intervention and prevention – tackling the root causes and building people's capabilities". Later in this report we discuss the importance of prevention in addressing demand for advice services.
Integration and collaboration
The Christie Commission also called for greater collaboration and integration between public organisations (Christie 2011). An example of this principle being put into practice is the integration of health and social care for adults in Scotland, as laid out in the Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act (2014). The integrated health and social care partnerships proposed in the legislation became fully operational in April 2016. Each partnership has produced joint strategic commissioning plans that focus on preventive and anticipatory care, and the wellbeing of patients, service users, carers and families in line with national outcomes. The aim of integration is to ensure that health and social care is more joined up and that, in particular, people with long term conditions and disabilities will benefit. Delivery of advice services is one factor in improving people's wellbeing, and collaborative approaches to delivery are crucial to this.
As part of a wider shift towards personalisation and co-production, the Scottish Government introduced self-directed support ( SDS) with the aim of giving social care service users more say over the services they receive. This aims to ensure that services fit the needs of individuals, and that service users have the right to be involved in decisions about the support they receive. The strategy recognises that SDS represents a change in the relationship between service users, commissioners and providers, with more choice and control given to service users and more flexibility required of providers and commissioners. This represents a significant culture shift for support services, including advice services - away from making decisions for people towards making decisions with people.
The Social Care (Self-Directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013 came into force in spring 2014. Since that point, Local Authorities have had a legal duty to offer service users SDS based on the following four options:
- Option 1: Direct Payments - the individual receives his or her Individual Budget through a direct payment, arranges his or her own support, and is responsible for the related finances.
- Option 2: Individual Service Fund - the service user selects and directs the support but another organisation handles the money;
- Option 3: Directly Provided Service - the council selects and arranges support; and,
- Option 4: a combination of two or more of the above.
Sections 9 & 10 of this legislation place a duty on Local Authorities to both provide and signpost people to appropriate information and advice on SDS to enabling the individual or an appropriate person acting on their behalf to make an informed choice.
Education Act 2016
The Education (Scotland) Act 2016 received Royal Assent on 8th March 2016 and reforms various areas of education in Scotland. The Act includes measures connected to:
- equity in education and improving attainment;
- additional support for learning;
- the duty to provide early learning and childcare to certain children;
- school clothing grants; and
- free school meals.
The Act has relevance to advice services for a number of reasons. The additional support for learning has created a new set of civil rights for which Scottish Government is funding advice to people relating to how to understand and exercise these rights. In addition, the Act impacts on advice services as it requires advice providers to be aware of the measures included, for example, those related to free school meals and school clothing grants, which may be included in advice given in relation to entitlements for families.
Welfare reform and further devolution
The UK Government has implemented a range of welfare reform measures in recent years, including the introduction of the Universal Credit and the under occupancy charge, commonly known as the 'Bedroom Tax'. This has led to changes in the amount of benefits received by some people, as well as challenges in understanding and accessing the new benefits. These challenges include, for example, the need for face-to-face assessments for people claiming disability benefits which has directly impacted on the way in which advice is being provided. To help mitigate the impact of the UK Government's welfare reform programme, the Scottish Government has invested "over £23 million for a range of projects to provide advice, advocacy and support for people affected by welfare reform" to support them "to navigate the welfare system, maximise their income, transition on to new benefits or manage debt" (Scottish Government, 2016 P15).
Some social security powers are in the process of being transferred from UK Parliament to the Scottish Parliament, as recommended by the Smith Commission in November 2014 and legislated for by the Scotland Act 2016. As a result of these changes, a number of benefits are being devolved to the Scottish Parliament including disability and carers payments  , as well as powers to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility, and to top-up reserved ones. In addition, the Scottish Parliament has the power to make administrative changes to Universal Credit and to vary the housing cost element.
The transfer of these powers will lead to further changes in the way in which benefits are administered. The Scottish Government has pledged to ensure that people can access help and advice to claim the benefits they are entitled to (Scottish Government, 2016). In doing this, the Scottish Government has noted the importance of the new Scottish social security agency working alongside the advice and support services provided by a range of organisations including Citizens Advice Bureaux, charities, social landlords and Local Authorities to provide a "seamless customer experience - from advice, to application to payment" (Scottish Government, 2016, p29). Further information about the Scotland Act 2016 is noted later in this section.
Public sector digital transformation
'Scotland's Digital Future: Delivery of Public Services' (Scottish Government, 2012) recognises that digital technologies are having an impact on "how people in Scotland acquire information about public services and access those services" (p2). The Scottish Government is committed to using digital technologies to redesign public services, and to use digital technologies in ways that reduce the cost of services to the user and provider. Indeed, the 'digital first' approach means that "the public sector will deliver online all services that can be delivered online" (p7), while taking into account the different capacities of service users and making services available face-to-face and/or by telephone where appropriate.
Environmental Protection Act (1992)
In order to pursue fuel poverty and climate change targets, the Scottish Government is implementing a range of measures, including support for people to make their homes more energy-efficient. Advice is one component of the measures in place to address fuel poverty.
Carers (Scotland) Act
The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 will come into force in 2017-18 and is intended to ensure that Scotland's estimated 745,000 adult carers and 44,000 young carers are better supported on a more consistent basis, so that they can continue to care, if they so wish, in good health and to have a life alongside caring  .. The Act, among other measures, places a duty on Local Authorities to provide an information and advice service for carers on topics including emergency and future care planning, education and training, wellbeing, health advocacy, income and carers' rights. Scottish Government has pledged funding towards these measures. The legislation stipulates that such advice should be inclusive and have particular regard for the protected characteristics of carers (Robson & Hudson 2015).
The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968
This legislation lays out Local Authorities' responsibilities to promote social welfare by making appropriate advice, guidance and assistance available to people in their area.
The Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Act 2014
This legislation requires that anyone seeking sequestration demonstrates that they have obtained advice from an independent money advisor who is qualified to provide advice on their financial circumstances, the effect of sequestration on their estate, and the process of sequestration. The Accountant in Bankruptcy has provided funding to ensure that money advisers providing such advice are suitably skilled.
The Scotland Act (2016)
Clause 50 of the Scotland Act 2016 amends reservations in Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 so as to devolve responsibility for consumer advocacy and advice to the Scottish Parliament. It should be noted that certain exceptions remain as the clause restricts the devolution of consumer advocacy and advice to specific matters (namely: consumer protection; product standards, safety and liability; weights & measures; posts; electricity; and oil & gas) and therefore excludes all other reserved areas, including telecommunications and wireless telegraphy, and transport. Clause 50 also reserves the right of the UK Government to levy energy and postal sector companies in order to fund consumer advocacy and advice.