New welfare agency told to avoid words like ‘benefit’ and ‘allowance’

Scotland’s new welfare agency has been told to avoid using the words “benefit” and “allowance” in case it stigmatises people who need to claim state support.

The change in terminology comes after a survey which showed people did not like terms like 'benefit' or 'allowance'.
The change in terminology comes after a survey which showed people did not like terms like 'benefit' or 'allowance'.

Research conducted by Social Security Scotland found disabled people using the welfare system want the names of benefits to be more positive in tone.

People responding to a survey on the subject said the new agency should avoid using terms such as “benefit”, “allowance”, “disabled” and “disability” when naming its schemes.

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They said these could be seen as “negative” or “stigmatising” and should be replaced by words that made it clear the person was entitled to the support they were receiving.

Alternatives suggested included words such as “assistance”, “payment” and “support”, which were seen as more “positive, neutral and empowering” and emphasised people’s independence.

The Scottish Government is in the process of inheriting a raft of benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which will eventually be relied upon by 1.4 million people. The 11 benefits being devolved include Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Carer’s Allowance, as well as Cold Weather and Winter Fuel Payments.

Social Security Scotland is in charge of administering the new schemes and has been asking people who already use the welfare system for their views.

One survey conducted in April and May this year involved 278 people with experience of claiming disability benefits and included questions on words the new agency should avoid or embrace.

“Respondents said that Social Security Scotland should avoid negative, stigmatising terms such as ‘disabled’, ‘disability’, ‘benefit’ and ‘allowance’,” the analysis of the survey stated. It also quoted several respondents. One said: “Stick to the positive and encouraging. Always give the impression that the agency is on the claimant’s side.”

Another added: “Definitely use positive words that give people a feeling of receiving something that they have every right to have. Words like ‘payments’, ‘finances’ and ‘amounts’.”

Ministers plan to use the responses to inform their decisions on the names of the new benefits, which are being rolled out in phases over the next two years.

In an attempt to distance itself from the system operated by the DWP, the Scottish Government has stressed its new agency will put “dignity, fairness and respect at the heart of everything” it does.

Bill Scott, senior policy adviser at the charity Inclusion Scotland, said the name of an individual benefit might sound unimportant, but “can mean quite a lot to people”.

Social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “A key difference in the way we are delivering a new social security system in Scotland is we are building the system with people.

She added: “We are doing further testing around the names of our new disability assistance as we have with our other benefits. We will also build this feedback into the language we use in all of our communications.”