The Scottish Parliament Social Security Committee has issued a call for evidence on the takeup of social security benefits. I’ve done lots on this in the past, so I’ve dashed something off based on a paper I presented in Belgium a little time ago. Here, for the truly dedicated, is the submission. The key points:
- Arguments about takeup have often centred on means-tested benefits, but the problems are much more extensive. Non-means-tested benefits are just as vulnerable.
- The main explanations for non-takeup conventionally include ignorance, the complexity of benefits, limited marginal benefit, and stigma. More detailed accounts consider perceived need, basic knowledge, perceived eligibility, perceived utility, beliefs and feelings, perceived stability of circumstances, and the process of making a claim.
- The benefits with the best takeup – Child Benefit and State Pension – are simple to access, have few conditions and are delivered for the long term. The benefits with the worst (including e.g. Pension Credit and DLA/PIP) are complex, poorly understood and have several moving parts. While there is scope for greater automaticity, the key problem rests in the design of such benefits.
- Takeup reflects the complex relationship between people and the public services, and consequently it can be enhanced by outreach and support; but the problems are more fundamental.
- Benefits should be understood as part of an income package. The route to security is not the integration of complex systems, which implies more complexity still, but the delivery of smaller, simpler, stand-alone benefits with a common pay day.