Transcript: Welfare reform. Impact on third sector social and housing care providers in Scotland

Iriss and CCPS - the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland - collaborated on an ESRC funded research project to investigate the impact of welfare reform on third sector social and housing care providers in Scotland.

Podcast Episode: Welfare reform. Impact on third sector social and housing care providers in Scotland

Category: Welfare reform 

What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

GW - Gregory White
SD - Shaheena Din
KM - Kirsty McKechnie

Iriss and CCPS - the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland, collaborated on an ESRC funded research project to investigate the impact of welfare reform on third sector social and housing care providers in Scotland. The results of this project were shared at a workshop on the 23rd of April 2014. First, Lead Researcher Gregory White, describes the project and its findings. Then Shaheena Din explains the role of the Scottish Welfare Reform Advisory Service (SCOTRAS), highlighting examples of the kind of enquiries they handle. Finally, Kirsty McKechnie from the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland describes the Early Warning System for gathering information about the impact of welfare reform on children and their families.

GW The research we conducted was Impact Welfare Reform on the third sector care and support services in Scotland, it began with a literature review and aimed to understand the context of the changes introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012, and the subsequent amendments, vis a vis the Welfare Reform (Further Provision) Scotland Act 2012. So following this, we conducted 17 interviews across 5 organisations and we had 3 primary research questions, and as I say these are organisations across the care and support sector in Scotland, and the results of these interviews formed the basis of our investigations into reforms and how they are impacting on the social services workforce. So as I say, the number of research questions that we devised, which lead to identifying some of the key issues that are affecting social services workforce, namely that we were keen to understand how social service practitioners were being impacted by reforms, what evidence we could use to predict some of the impacts, and what we know about the response in the service providers in order to help them to prepare for some of the impacts of Welfare Reform.

A little bit then about the context, the political context, and why the kind of context we have on reforms, so the changes to the Welfare system are the most controversial since inception following the Second World War, and the concerns about express built welfare reform leading to greater debt, homelessness, family break up, worsening physical, mental health.

The changes include replacements to disability living allowance by a point based personal independence payments, raisings of incapacity benefits and withdrawal of council tax benefits and so on and so forth, so a whole raft of changes that are really affecting service users and clients.

Furthermore, the reforms aimed to bring in new digital applications and set up monthly payments for tenants for paying landlords, so concerns have been expressed particularly about this that not all claimants have online access, and some groups are immediately excluded from this process and therefore finding managing money is a challenge for them, and this is also impacting on the social services workforce in them having to deal with their clients directly. So in order to understand these impacts, assessment of the current conditions was necessary, and this was, as I say, conducted in a literature review. We’ll be including in the report, a timetable of the changes and as I am sure you are all aware, they are subject to change and they have been changing quite rapidly and drastically.

So a Citizens Advice report in Scotland identified particular groups who would be impacted by the reforms, families, the jobless and those with disabilities … with disabled facing the greatest challenge of all. This is all happening, I guess, within the context of changing public perception towards delivery of welfare, and you will all be very familiar of some of the things that have been happening in the media.

So the change in attitude says this graph here is taken from the British Social Attitude Survey, and shows a declining agreement with the public attitudes to government spending on welfare and benefits, and this is something that’s been declining very significantly, so 20% of … this is the most recent British Social Attitude Survey 2012, 28% of those surveyed thought the government should be spending more, compared to 43% in 2001. 62% of those surveyed thought that unemployment benefit was too high compared with 54% in 2007, so really underlining the fact that the changing public attitudes to those in receipt of welfare is changing and this is providing its own challenges for the social services workforce.

So with all this in mind, we were keen to look at a number of things that would be impacting workforce and organisations, so increased demand for services, a precarious financial environment, and we are going to explain more about this, changes to the organisational structure and key to this, I guess, is the impact on staff roles, wellbeing and morale of the workforce. So clearly Social Services sector had to deal with an increased demand, from the CPS’s own Service Provider Optimism Survey and the most recent one that was conducted from June to December, found that 76% were concerned about the impact of welfare reform on services and expected … 65% expected a change in demand. With regards to the precarious and financial environment, additional pressure has been placed on services and again I am sure you will all have your own experiences of that. 68% of respondents in the same survey reported that local authority, cuts to their funding, with ¼ identifying that reductions in staff terms and conditions and increases in part time staff and cuts to training, recruitment problems and poor staff morale.

So moving then, I guess, onto some of the key findings and some of the initial thoughts of the report, from the research conducted, it was clear that there were a number of things that were affecting the workforce, not least the fact that there were personal anxieties, and also increasing workloads, as evidenced by the literature review, which was conducted before, so … one of the key findings then was that research that participants were experiencing an increased amount of anxiety and stress and some of the accounts shared by research participants demonstrated that there was a level of apprehension and trepidation, which can be attributed in part to the change in demands of the workforce. So a quote here then, from a support worker, talking about their experiences of having a stressful job and this being compounded by the reforms to welfare, and that adding certain pressures …

‘We have a very stressful job anyway, and a lot of our staff have a kind of burnt out period in maybe about 3 years, and they would like to maybe move on after that because it’s so intense here and so I think Welfare Reform maybe adds to that pressure, and Universal Credit certainly will.’

This is something that came up quite frequently across the interviews I conducted, there was a sense that the workforce was very concerned about some of the changes to Welfare and how this will be impacting on clients on service users, and this is something that they were not only concerned about at work, but something they are also taking home with them at night and rather quite concerned about. Increasing workloads, not only increasing workloads, but increasing workloads and complex cases, so one of the pressing concerns then is this perceived impact on service demand and this was certainly supported by the evidence I gathered during the interview process. The staff were particularly concerned about the type of work they were having to perform, which may or may not have been outside of their original training, so being asked to do things that they perhaps weren’t at first trained to do, so there were concerns being expressed about their kind of capacity to actually do some of the work that they had been originally trained for. So a quote here, again from a support worker.

‘I have observed the huge volume of work that’s placed on the Housing Officers and obviously because I am aware that they have got this extra work, I try and take on tasks for them to help them out, so it does impact.’

And it’s extra work for them, and it’s not only the type of work they are doing, but it’s also working longer hours and often in terms of declining terms of pay and conditions, which I will go onto later, which is kind of part of the compounding downward pressures that also impact on the Social Services workforce.

In terms of the organisations then, the high workplace turnover, and I am sure we all know that social services, particularly the third sector, care and support services, experience high turnover anyway, but this is something that’s been noted recently, so this is one of the recurring themes, and the subject of … again pay terms and conditions united research participants and that there was an unease about how organisational restructures could affect their work, but also on a personal level as recipients of in work benefits. So there was kind of a dual pronged attack here, I guess, on their conditions, so not only were they being … they were suffering reduced pay and conditions in their workplace, they were also, if they were in receipt of in work benefits, then they were seeing a reduction of those as well, so increasingly they are finding that performing their work becomes less easy, due to those additional pressures. So again, this is a quote here from a manager for one of the organisations interviewed, they talk about the fact they are losing experienced workers and having to re-establish teams and them saying that this was having a bigger effect on the organisations than they initially thought.

‘You are losing experienced workers and you are having to go through the process of recruiting new workers and stuff like that and that affects you personally, because you are getting new folk into the team and you have an established team, so when you think about it, it’s actually a bigger affect than you think.’

Another aspect that was affecting the Social Services workforce and organisations was adapting services and devoting resources, so not only were they having to think about ways of being creative with the kind of money or quote from one of the people I interviewed … ‘doing more with less’ …, they were also having to think about where they were spending money in terms of supporting service users and clients. So several research participants reported that as a result of the reforms, organisations were making partial or essential changes to their services. So, there’s a quote here from, again a support worker.

‘We have a lot of clients in small packages and they need help with housework, domestic chores, shopping, and if they are only getting 2 hours, you could be spending a lot of time dealing with benefit changes, the bedroom tax and things like that, and it could eat up their full 2 hours.’

What is particularly interesting about this is that they were spending a lot more time having to work on helping people, their clients and service users, fill out forms, rather than helping them with …‘housework, domestic chores, shopping …’ other things like that, so there’s a kind of shift in the kind of tasks that the social services workforce are having to do in this kind of context of reform, and that in itself is creating its own pressures. Where they would be taking the time to fill in these forms, it would be taking their full 2 hours of time with their clients.

Another interesting aspect, when conducting research, was accessing other services. When I talk about accessing other services, I am talking about the relationship between government agencies and the third sector care and support services. One of the things that became clear was the research participants were uneasy or the relationship between these agencies and them was becoming more frayed, so when they are asked to give out their own experiences, participants gave responses, frank response about the level of support available from government agencies, and the commonality between their tasks reflects a broader dissatisfaction with the provision of government services. So from the research I conducted, there was a dissatisfaction with their dealings with the Job Centre, for example, and not being able to attend the Job Centre with clients, and this was something that came up across the research.

‘To tell you the truth, I am very disappointed in the way that people are sanctioned by the Job Centre. I don’t say it’s not required sometimes, I am not there to make the judgement call. But I have become aware on 2 or 3 occasions last year, people have come in here in absolute crisis with money because they have been sanctioned, and seemingly quite unjustly, quite unfairly.’

So that’s a quote there, again from a support worker, talking about that they were disappointed that people being sanctioned by the Job Centre and the way that they were treated, and this is something again, that united research participants, and they were very clear about that this was having an effect on the clients but also having an effect on them, because they were taking, this is a personal anxiety for them.

Support and training issues, there are mixed responses on this issue, some were satisfied with the level of support and training that was delivered by their employer, and some were less satisfied. But it became clear that the quality of training and the quantity with regards to welfare reform, was not enough and support workers felt that they needed to be more informed of the changes, but they also expressed concerns that in their view, it hampered their ability to relay and disseminate accurate information to their clients and service users.

‘When I found out that benefits were changing, I actually went online myself and looked them up. I feel it’s best to understand them before I am out in the field trying to explain them to my clients. Because for certain clients you have to break it down into the simplest form for them to understand.’

So this is a support worker talking about the fact they were having to find these things out for themselves, going onto internet searches, rather than them being appropriately trained by their employer. The changes to pay and terms and conditions, these accompanying downward pressures that make it more difficult for the social services workforce to perform their jobs. A lot of support workers that I interviewed were concerned about the fact they were losing their pay, they were losing their sick pay, they were being asked to work more hours and the loss of certain terms and conditions was making resulting in them having to look around elsewhere for other work because the work they were doing had become less attractive. So this was something else that I guess the third sector has to contend with, the fact that in a climate of decreasing terms and conditions, that the workforce are now considering other forms of employment.

This is just another quote here from a support worker.

‘I have lost £3,000 off my salary, it’s quite significant. It was a 9.5% salary cut, and that’s obviously had an impact, not just on me, but there is the future possibility of salary reduction.’

This is true actually across organisations I interviewed, they had all seen a salary cut, so the impact was not just on support workers but also on the Managers and the HR professionals and so on and so forth.

So projecting the future, the final part, I guess, of my investigations was to ask whether the social services workforce had any hopes and fears for the future and they were asked to give an impression of the work in the sector and how they might envisage their role changing. And the testimonies that, I collected have highlighted a mixture of optimism and pessimism for the challenges for the sector. The majority of respondents were concerned about their clients, another issue that united the research participants was the issue of rent arrears, this kind of climate of sanctioning how their clients would end up in a worse financial position, and therefore would be more dependant and reliant on the services that they were already receiving support from.

From the research I conducted, I can say with certainty, that the social services workforce are experiencing multiple pressures, which, combined are affecting their ability to perform day to day tasks, in particular mental health of the workforce has become particularly fragile. In addition, the social services workforce has contended with a greater workload and there are a number of complex cases has risen, and particularly since the introduction of the reforms, and there is a sense that additional work is being taken out in order to deal with some of the issues that clients face, such as the introduction of the so called ‘bedroom tax’. And since work in social services has become more pressured, there’s a tendency for the workforce to begin to look elsewhere. Organisations also having to rapidly adapt to the changes in circumstances, and that’s taking their ability to deal with issues of clients on a day to day basis, and the information … this is a fundamental point actually, of research, from the DWP, is often disaggregated, incomplete or insufficient, and therefore the organisations are having to fill in the gaps or seek out further information for themselves in order to change their practices. There’s also a lack of engagement and cooperation between care and support services organisations and government agencies, in some cases the social services workforce is facing a greater challenge when seeking support for clients and service users and this is something that came through very clearly. And finally, support and training given by care and support organisations often doesn’t match the expectations of the workforce, which is making it harder for them to help clients and service users access all the benefits, and this is all happening within the context of additional downward pressures, as they said the declining pay, terms and conditions.

SD My name is Shaheena Din, and I am the Housing and Partnership Development worker for the Scottish Welfare Reform Advisory Service, which is a total mouthful, so we actually just call it SCOTRAS.

We were funded by the Scottish legal Aid Board to try and mitigate the impact of welfare reform. We know that frontline staff are being approached by clients with queries relating to changes in the benefit system, and often these changes are having an impact on housing, causing rent arrears and other complex housing issues. Advisors often don’t know how to assist their clients with these queries, so Shelter Scotland, with their experience as the largest provider of housing and debt advice, and this, combined with highly skilled and knowledgeable staff, has led to the setting up of this advice line for advisers. We recognise that our strengths are in housing, money, debt and in order to give more holistic advice, we have formed a partnership with the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland. Their advisers have a vast amount of experience, knowledge and highly skilled advisers providing advice on the area of benefits. We realise that it’s important for us to work together so we are able to offer agencies access to what they feel are key areas in a fully integrated way, so it’s housing, debt and benefits. We recognise that there’s a whole spectrum of enquiries and the website has been designed to try and support these key resource and aims to bring together 3 areas, which is the housing, debt and benefits in one easily accessible area. It will provide an overview of the key welfare reform changes, help you to spot debt, the issues, gives ways to manage these, and seek to prevent issues resulting in people losing their homes.

We have got practical tools on here for you to use, but we do want it to evolve as you guys use it, so if you have used our website and you and your clients and service users would benefit from particular additions, then please talk to us about that, because we are able to add things onto our website and we do want in put into it. You can access the service by sending an email at and we will respond to all emails within 2 working days, and this gives a more flexible engagement method.

Finally we have got the daily advice line, the Shelter Scotland line itself is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 3pm, and its second tier advice, so it’s advising the adviser on housing and debt and if the website isn’t able to provide the answer, then give us a call. We will generally try and answer your query there and then, sometimes because we get quite a lot of complex cases, because people won’t call us for things that are easily found, we might have to look up legislation and we will usually say, listen, let us find out the appropriate legislation and email you back. We do ask however for a little bit of information about your client and that’s just because we need that before we can give you advice.

I did say that the purpose of the service is to improve the confidence and knowledge within organisations, so they are better positioned to manage the demand they are seeing, as Greg indicated before, the workforce are feeling a bit nervous and anxious about advising clients on things that they don’t know. To understand if this is working or has worked, we want to keep up a dialogue with those using the service, so hopefully if you call our service, we will ask you if you are okay to take an evaluation survey at some point, where the legal aid board may call you up and say listen, how did you find the service, was it effective?

We also want to produce a narrative on the effects of welfare reform, lessons learned and best practice in terms of service delivery, and consider residual and met need. The strength of collective voice of experience gives us a chance for us to report back to the Scottish government on things that we think are working and not working.

We have quite a small team for the whole of Scotland, but it’s myself, Angela Moore is the money adviser, Wendy Molloy is the housing adviser, and we have got Tom Yuill, who is the digital writer, who updates the website.

I just wanted to share with you the type of things that we have had on our advice line so far, I would say to you that our advice line has not yet reached capacity, however these are just our findings so far. 31% of calls related to general affordability, just with people struggling to meet daily costs on benefits, they have had some sort of housing issue but they were calling us and the welfare reform aspect of it was the fact that they were struggling to make ends meet. 29% of calls related to the bedroom tax, where the client was either affected or going to be affected in a tenancy succession, or if they were moving out or had to move places. 10% of calls related to local housing allowance rates not meeting local rents. For us, there seems to be a trend for this in rural areas and it might just be the types of callers that we are having are maybe calling us from rural areas where there is less support available. And 3% of calls related to GSA sanctions.

Just going back into the part about affordability, because that was the mass of our callers, the callers that had affordability issues, out of them, 40% of those also had rent arrears, 11% of those callers were homeless or about to make a homeless application, and 11% of those callers had been repossessed, so we’ve really got a wide range of types of calls that we are getting into the service.

Just a case study that we got about 2 days ago, client had decree granted for rent arrears, struggling to pay housing costs, client had also been affected by bedroom tax, which exacerbated the rent arrears. It was a volunteer from a CAB that had given us a call and we were just trying to assist them. The decree was granted, but we supported the adviser to complete a Minute for Recall, and that just allows the case to be called back at court and be defended. We also gave the adviser the tools to support the client with a repayment arrangement, so we kind of talked through … it was the money advisers who kind of talked through doing an income and expenditure and what sort of payment arrangement could be made. We did give them sign posts for further help if they needed it, but we were trying to talk them through this. We also gave advice around the discretionary housing payment, and I think we have helped to prevent homelessness in that case.

KM My name is Kirsty McKechnie, I am a Welfare Rights Officer with the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, for those who maybe don’t know, CPAG is a national organisation working to eradicate child poverty. We do this by providing training on benefits and tax credits. We run a second tier advice line for frontline advisers and support workers and also through our research and campaign work, which recently has included the free school meals campaign and work on the Children and Young Person’s bill, to ensure that it reflected the needs of children living in poverty.

There is a great deal of evidence that poverty undermines wellbeing, children from poorer households are more likely to experience lower birth weight, chronic ill health as toddlers, risk of accidental injury and mental health problems. They are also less likely to participate in drama, sports and outdoor activities. By age 3, many children living in poverty lag a year behind their more affluent peers in terms of cognitive development, social skills and school readiness. The costs are not just the direct impact to the child, but also the financial costs, for example, services tackling child poverty, lost taxes, spending on welfare benefits, it’s estimated that the government’s current benefits and tax credit policies will drive 100,000 more children in Scotland into child poverty by the year 2020. For this reason, CPAG has developed the Early Warning System to gather information about the impact of welfare reform on children and their families.

We have always recorded the advice given on the advice line, but we are now taking a more systematic approach to recording the policy information arising. Since the middle of January, we have noted 209 cases of interest from our advice line. Because our advice line is second tier, we have no direct contact with families, so we have also asked frontline workers to contribute case studies from their work on an online case study collection form. We have got a target of 100 frontline workers and we have got more than 75 signed up so far.

Also gathering information at our training and events, trainees will find forms asking for what the common problems facing their clients are and to note any case studies of interest. Also asking trainers to record any issues discussed during the course. In addition, we are carrying out 2 qualitative studies, firstly we are following 10 families over a year looking at the cumulative impact of welfare reforms. The first interviews were carried out last summer, and the second round has just been completed. They have not been written up yet, but we do know from speaking to the interviewer, that 2 out of the first 4 families interviewed have had to be referred to food banks within the period from our previous interview. We are also carrying out some joint work with Oxfam at food banks, asking people what circumstances led them to the food bank and what would need to change in order to prevent them having to return again.

We will be gathering all this information together and it will be quickly analysed and disseminated. We will be running a series of seminars, to which we will be inviting policymakers and service planners, we will be discussing emerging issues and proposing ways to mitigate the impact of welfare reform. We will produce briefings to ensure that MSP’s and policymakers are fully informed about welfare reform, and we will also be working with the press to ensure that people are informed about the circumstances in which people claim benefits, the impacts of welfare reform and what really leads people to using food banks.

In relation to opportunities to influence, we hope to inform the passage of legislation, for example the legislation for the new Permanent Scottish Welfare Fund, and we will respond to consultations and assist our London colleagues with consultations that they may be responding to.

We will have a wee look at some of the early findings from the Early Warning System. Of 209 cases noted from our advice line, a third were given the wrong information or their claim had been processed incorrectly. Better training and support for staff administering benefits alone would have a positive impact for families claiming benefits. This highlights the need for good quality advice provision to ensure that people are informed about their rights and entitlement, especially when things go wrong. We have recorded a number of cases in relation to delays in processing claims, especially in relation to Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments. It takes an average of 6 months for a PIP claim to be processed, but we have a case where one client in a rural area has waited more than a year for an ESA and a PIP assessment. His PIP will be backdated, but the additional payments that he may be entitled to through the ESA will not be. We have advisers telling us that the DWP have been stockpiling assessments in rural areas to make it worthwhile for a visiting assessor to attend, this includes a client who was undergoing chemotherapy and experiencing extreme fatigue. He had claimed last October and his claim was finally decided in April, but in the meantime he had to cope with the £200 per month reduction in his income and he became extremely upset and worried about how he would manage financially. Mandatory reconsideration is a new step that has been added before a claimant can appeal a decision. It affects employment and support allowance claimants in particular because they are not entitled to ESA while they are awaiting a mandatory reconsideration. They can claim GSA, but they would have to be available and actively seeking work or they would be sanctioned. The whole point about ESA is that people claim it because they are not well enough to work. We had one client who had 6 children, who had failed his assessment. The target for mandatory reconsideration is 14 days, it took 6 weeks, and in the meantime, his family had to be referred to a food bank in order to survive.

Increased use of sanctions are not a reform in themselves, but the increased use has caused a big problem for families. In the year in the run up to the September 2013, the increased use of sanctions was at the highest level for any period since GSA was introduced in 1996. We had one client who couldn’t attend the job centre because he had no money, he was sanctioned. He was advised that mandatory reconsideration decision would take weeks and that a decision regarding hardship payments, which he can claim at a reduced level while you are sanctioned, would take at least 10 days. His Scottish Welfare fund application was refused and he was initially awarded £90 worth of Sainsbury’s vouchers. He couldn’t pay court fees that are normally deducted from his benefits and he now faces 14 days in prison. He can’t have his daughter to stay with him as his home is completely unfurnished, he also can’t travel to see her because he has got no money. Consequently, access arrangements are being reviewed and his daughter phones her dad to ask him why he doesn’t love her any more.

We had a case with a lone parent with a 5 year old, who was sanctioned for 4 weeks because she failed to keep her appointment with the Careers adviser. She was in the job centre, but she had been directed to wait in the wrong area and didn’t hear her name being called. She asked if a new appointment could be arranged in school hours and was told by the adviser, ‘I will decide when your appointment will be and we will put it in the post to you.’ She never received it. The sanction was eventually overturned at mandatory reconsideration, but in the meantime, she was reliant on hardship payments, which meant a reduced income of 20% in the meantime.

If we look at some of the reforms that have been highlighted in the Early Warning System. In April 2003, the benefit cap was introduced for claimants who were not working. The cap was set at £500 per week for couples and lone parents and £350 per week for single households with no children. In the period of April to December 2013, more than 1330 households were subject to the benefit cap. This is a relatively low number of families in Scotland, but the benefit cap has considerable impact on the families affected. We had a lone parent with 5 children who had fled a domestic abuse situation, she was currently in local authority temporary accommodation. There are new regulations that exempt people who have experienced domestic abuse while they are living in a refuge, or accommodation where support is provided. This puts additional pressure on refuge and support providers and there’s a potential for a bottle neck as people will not be exempt when they move on to permanent accommodation. This client was neither in refuge or supported accommodation, so she was subject to the benefit cap. Her housing benefit was reduced to 50p per week and this will follow her into permanent accommodation as well.

In May 2013, the Bedroom Tax was introduced, reducing the benefit for anybody who was deemed to have an extra bedroom. In May 2013, the Scottish Government estimated that 83,000 households were affected by the bedroom tax, 15,000 of these are families with children. We had a client in homeless accommodation whose son was currently being looked after by local authority. The long term plan was to return him to his Mum, but because of the bedroom tax, she is only being considered for 1 bedroom properties, putting her in the position where she will not have enough space to allow her son to be returned to her.

Residence Tests for people from abroad is a very complex area, and it’s something we get a number of calls to the advice line about. There have been a few changes to the residence test, including a past/present tense for the disability living allowance. Previously people should have been in the country for the last 26 out of 52 weeks, and this has now been extended to 104 out of 156 weeks. We have 6 cases where children are not entitled to disability living allowance because they do not meet the new extended tests, this is leaving 6 families without the financial support to meet the additional needs of a disabled child. It’s also an area where people are often wrongly advised or claims are processed incorrectly. For example, one family were told that they couldn’t claim GSA because their English wasn’t good enough, in 4 cases, clients were refused benefits because they had been told that they were not entitled because they did not pass the relevant residence test when they should have done.

We talked previously about how we will disseminate the information and we intend to make proposals and facilitate discussion about how the impacts can be mitigated. As mentioned previously, better training and support for staff would have a huge positive impact on families claiming benefits. I have highlighted the importance in advice provision to ensure people are aware of entitlement and supported to challenge decisions.

We will be informing the passage of the legislation for a Permanent Scottish Welfare Fund, the general message is at the moment, that administration has improved but there are still areas for improvement. We will be asking people to assess the impact of all major policies and spending decisions, to ensure that they are contributing to helping the worst off families. We will also be calling for more affordable, accessible, flexible childcare, to reduce stretched household budgets, to allow parents largely women, and especially lone parents, to return to work. This will increase household income, it will be good for the economy and it will also be good for the child, as it’s shown that children with access to good childcare have improved cognitive development, better social skills and increased school readiness.

We have already mentioned the attainment gap in relation to child poverty and CPAG is currently involved in work to poverty proof the school day, looking at the stigma, cost of school meals and trips and uniforms.

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