Why we created Experience Panels
The creation of Scotland’s first social security agency, Social Security Scotland, is a truly historic moment. From the very start of the process of developing our own system we were clear that it had to be founded upon principles of dignity and respect. And we were clear that the best people to work with in building such a system were the people who had direct experience of benefits and the existing claims process.
That is why we created Experience Panels, over 2,400 volunteers who have signed up to help build a system that works for people. The Panels, which started helping us last year and will run for around four years in total, use the principles of working, designing and developing together to create a social security system that better meets the needs of those who will be in receipt of benefits. The Experience Panels, alongside research with people with lived experience recruited by other means, will provide an evidence base for the monitoring and evaluation of the transition from the current system run by DWP to our new system.
We have just published two short visual summary reports that summarise what we have learned from our work with Experience Panels and others on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the replacement benefit for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – and Best Start Grant (BSG) – the replacement benefit for Sure Start Maternity Grant and Healthy Start Food Vouchers.
What we learned from speaking to over 200 people with experience of PIP was hugely helpful if not entirely surprising. As the PIP report outlines, people found the length and complexity of the form filling process exhausting and disheartening. Combined with short deadlines, the requirement for face-to-face assessments at hard to reach places on inconvenient dates and inaccurate assessment reports, it felt to many that the system was designed to frustrate rather than support.
And it is precisely because of these experiences that we are committed to doing things differently in Scotland. So as well as summarising these findings, our PIP report also outlines our tangible responses to such concerns. Such as ensuring that all information is accessible and the development of an online route for applications and such as offering people a choice of online, phone or paper forms to apply for disability benefits.
Similar concerns were raised by many of those we spoke to about the process involved for the benefit which will become the Best Start Grant (BSG). People wanted to get information about the benefit, wanted to apply in different ways, wanted more time to complete their applications and wanted to experience less anxiety throughout the process, especially during pregnancy.
And again the BSG process is being designed to reflect those findings, better publicising the availability of the grant, adding flexibility in how to apply and extending the deadline for applications.
So our work with Experience Panels and others with lived experience is proving to be invaluable and I had the pleasure of meeting some members when I visited the Social Security Scotland HQ in Dundee last week. We are committed to working with them in the months and years ahead, continuing to ask their views and developing and refining our systems to meet their needs – not just those entitled to PIP and BSG but to all the 11 benefits being devolved to Scotland.
We will continue to publish reports – their findings and our response – to demonstrate our continuing commitment to building a social security system of which we in Scotland can be proud, a system build upon dignity and respect and the experience of users.