Examining outcomes associated with Social Security Scotland spending

Social Security Scotland now delivers 14 benefits that support around 1.2 million people in Scotland. This report synthesises evidence relating to the outcomes associated with social security spending administered by Social Security Scotland, and highlights opportunities for further research.


This report synthesises emerging evidence relating to the outcomes associated with social security spending administered by Social Security Scotland.

Social security is a human right and public service that anyone could need at any time. It is also an important means through which governments can reduce inequalities and improve short, medium and long term outcomes for individuals and households. This has the additional potential to reduce future demands on other public services and spending, and over the long term, also increase tax revenues.


Social Security Scotland was established in 2018. Over the last five years fourteen benefits have been introduced, seven of which are unique to Scotland. It is estimated that these benefits provide support to around 1.2 million people in Scotland.

Social security investment represents a significant proportion of the overall Scottish budget; the overall amount paid out in devolved benefits is currently forecast to increase by around £2.7 billion – from £4.2 billion in 2022-23 to £6.9 billion in 2025-26[1]. The vast majority of this is related to benefits administered by Social Security Scotland.

The benefits currently delivered by Social Security Scotland[2] primarily provide financial support to disabled people to help mitigate the additional costs associated with being disabled, to support those caring for disabled people, and targeted payments to support low income families, particularly with children, to alleviate poverty.

Evidence relating to outcomes associated with Social Security Scotland spending

As Social Security Scotland has only been operational for five years, evidence regarding the impacts of the benefits it administers is still tentative. However, early modelling, qualitative analysis and evaluation shows that, in addition to acting as a safety net in times of need, benefits administered by Social Security Scotland support the achievement of a fairer Scotland through:

  • Reducing child poverty: There is strong empirical and theoretical evidence that the Scottish Child Payment (SCP) is reducing child poverty in Scotland[3]. Scottish Government modelling suggests that the SCP will reduce the relative child poverty rate by around five percentage points in 2023/24, lifting around 50,000 children out of poverty[4][5].
  • Household poverty, material deprivation and debt: There is emerging evaluation evidence[6] that the new and devolved benefits administered by Social Security Scotland are reported to be positively contributing to reducing financial pressure on households, reducing poverty, debt, material deprivation and food insecurity.
  • Reducing income inequality: Distributional modelling by the Scottish Government[7][8] and the Institute for Fiscal Studies[9] indicates that changes made to the tax and welfare system by the Scottish Government in previous budgets have contributed to reducing inequality and targeting financial support to those who need it most.
  • Promoting equality: Women, disabled people and ethnic minorities experience higher rates of poverty. Disabled people also face increased additional living costs because of their disability or health condition. Equality impact assessments indicate that women, disabled people and ethnic minorities are likely to benefit most from new Scottish benefits such as the SCP[10].
  • Health: Early evaluation evidence of benefits such as the SCP[3], Best Start Foods[11] and Best Start Grant[12] suggest that these benefits are improving health outcomes through, for example, enabling parents to provide more and better quality food for their children.
  • Wellbeing: The introduction of new family benefits has led to improved family wellbeing through recipients reporting reducing money related stress and anxiety for parents, improving children’s wellbeing from having their basic needs met (for example reduced distress caused by being hungry) and improving parental confidence and self-esteem[13].
  • Education and social participation: Several evaluations outline the role of benefits in increasing social participation. The evaluation of the Young Carer Grant[14] indicated that recipients reported that the grant helped them to take part in opportunities which are the norm for their non-caring peers. To date, there is limited evidence regarding the role of social security benefits in supporting participation in education or reducing educational attainment gaps.
  • Employment and economy: Existing evaluation evidence[15] indicates that the Job Start Payment helps to meet the up-front costs of a new job, support young people to take up employment and increase confidence when starting a new job. There is also qualitative evidence[14] to suggest that the Young Carer Grant is supporting some carers with employment and training. However, the overall impact of Social Security Scotland spending on the wider economy, and on supporting people into paid work where this is their goal, is more difficult to evidence and more uncertain.

Maximising the take-up of Social Security Scotland benefits and payments

The Scottish Ministers have a statutory duty to ensure that as many people as possible take up the devolved benefits to which they are entitled in order to maximise the positive outcomes associated with the benefits it administers. The Scottish Government’s approach to maximising benefit take-up is set out in a series of Benefit Take-up Strategies – the second of which was published in 2021. Related to this is Social Security Scotland’s commitment to treat people with dignity, fairness and respect, to reduce stigma and involve service users in the design and delivery process for benefits[16].

Social Security Scotland and the Scottish Government have made extensive efforts to maximise the take-up of benefits and payments by marginalised and disadvantaged groups. Analysis shows estimates of take-up rates of Scottish benefits is particularly high for benefits targeted at low income families with children such as the SCP[17].

Evidence from large scale surveys[18] of clients finds that the vast majority of people who have interacted with Social Security Scotland are positive about their experience and feel that they have been treated with kindness and respect.

Building on and improving evidence

Understanding the longer term outcomes associated with social security spending is methodologically challenging. It may take a number of years for changes in outcomes to be observed. Demonstrating long term impact and causality involves investing in the collection of good quality quantitative data underpinned by the development of clear and well evidenced logic models. It will also be beneficial to have long term qualitative data to add depth to the statistical narrative.

This review highlighted the significant amount of detailed analytical work that underpins the design and delivery of Social Security Scotland benefits. This includes impact assessments, qualitative research, statistical modelling, user satisfaction surveys and process evaluations.

The review also highlighted areas for future development relating to logic models for the outcomes associated with the newly devolved disability benefits, impact and economic evaluation and also the need to better understand the effects of benefits on specific outcomes for people in receipt of benefits. More detailed evidence in relation to application approvals between groups with different protected characteristics is also required to better understand why some groups appear to be more successful in their applications.

There is considerable international interest in how Scotland has taken a distinctive approach in relation to the ethos of the devolved agency, the delivery of benefits and the introduction of new benefits such as the SCP. It will be important to continue to invest in high quality research and evaluation in order to better understand how the devolved social security system contributes to a wide range of short, medium and longer term outcomes.

With this in mind, a number of areas emerged from this evidence synthesis where more evidence is needed to demonstrate the outcomes (or impact) of investment. Identified gaps to date include the extent to which benefits administered by Social Security Scotland support:

  • Impact on employment outcomes (beyond initial promising evidence from the Job Start payment and Young Carer Grant)
  • Participation in early years education by children and in further education or training by parents (and any contributions to reducing the education attainment gap)
  • Economic impacts more broadly
  • Longer term health and wellbeing
  • Preventative savings over time as a result of potentially reduced demand (or changes in the nature of demand that reduce costs) for public services e.g. health and social care, and also for benefits themselves over time due to factors such as a reduction in future social problems that result from investment in benefits now

Although outside the scope of this review, it should be noted that policy action in other areas, e.g. employability, housing, mental health, also has the potential to reduce – or increase – demand for social security benefits. It is therefore not possible to evaluate the outcomes of social security policy in isolation, and robust evaluation of these closely-linked policy areas is also important.

In relation to current gaps in the type of evidence available, the review identified these as primarily relating to longitudinal data and an absence of experimental or quasi-experimental data.


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