Thousands of families benefit from new grant

29 April 2019, 15:37 | Updated: 29 April 2019, 15:39


Around £3.5 million has been paid out to almost 10,000 low-income families in the first three months of the Best Start Grant.

It's a new payment scheme to help cover the costs of having a baby.

Following the transfer of 11 social security powers to Holyrood from Westminster, the Scottish Government last year began a rollout of benefits as part of the phased introduction of a new social security system.

It means low-income families have been able to apply for the first part of the new Best Start Grant, the Pregnancy and Baby Payment, since it opened in December.

The payment provides £600 for a first child and £300 for any siblings thereafter and is designed to help with the costs of pregnancy or having a baby such as for maternity clothes, a cot or pram.

It replaces the UK Government's Sure Start Grant, which does not entitle payment to children who are not the first born in their family.

Analysis suggests the UK grant paid out around £2 million in 2017-2018.

Figures published by the Scottish Government show payments were made to 2,400 families who have had their first child, while payments were also made to around 7,300 families who had a child already and have now welcomed a newborn into their household.

Cabinet Secretary for Social Security Shirley-Anne Somerville said the statistics are evidence of what Holyrood can do with the powers to help support families across the country.

"I am committed to making sure that every child gets the support they need to have the best start in life," she said.

"The huge take-up of this new benefit in its first three months highlights just what can be achieved when you design a service with the people who will actually use it.

"In doing so, we have simplified the application process and offered multiple ways to apply.

"We have found out where we need to promote the payment and who we need to work with - including health and childcare professionals - to make sure that people know that they are entitled.

"We want to increase financial support to families, bringing equality to children across Scotland by giving them help towards a fairer start."

On Monday, the Early Learning Payment, the second part of the Best Start Grant, opened for applications.

It is aimed at helping with the costs of having a pre-school child, for example, the costs of day trips, books or toys for home learning,

The third part of the Best Start Grant, the School Age Payment, will open to applicants in June.

It will focus on providing help to pay for the costs such as new school bags, school trips and after-school activities.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government was criticised over its decision to delay the full devolution of the social security benefits until 2024.

Scottish Labour's social security spokesman Mark Griffin described the delay as a "betrayal".

Scottish Greens parliamentary co-leader Alison Johnstone encouraged all eligible families to apply for the Early Learning Payment.

Ms Johnstone said: "We know that many people don't claim social security support because either they do not know they are entitled or don't know there is support available at all.

"Over £1 billion goes unclaimed every year.

"As an entirely new form of assistance, it is all the more important that the Scottish Government does all it can to raise awareness of this new grant amongst eligible families.

"That is why Greens have been calling for more action on helping poorer families to maximise their incomes by assisting them to apply for the support that is on offer, and was why we campaigned for and secured the national rollout of the Healthier, Wealthier Children scheme, which puts millions into the pockets of families when it would otherwise go unclaimed.

"I hope to see strong uptake of the Early Learning Payment as another step towards a social security system that doesn't hide its support away but actively reaches out to ensure everyone gets what they are entitled to."