Evaluation of Best Start Foods: qualitative research
The aim of Best Start Foods is to provide financial support for low-income families to meet the cost of nutritious food during pregnancy and early years.
Best Start Foods (BSFs) provides eligible pregnant women, parents and carers (up until their child turns three years old) with a weekly payment which can be used at participating retailers. BSFs payments are loaded onto and then used via a debit card. BSFs are administered by Social Security Scotland and are one of 11 benefits devolved to the Scottish Government.
Aim(s) of the study
The research sought to understand the experience of families who had received BSFs in the first two years of the benefit from the perspective of BSFs clients and healthcare professionals. The research also sought to explore the experiences of participating retailers on administering the scheme. This research was part of a wider evaluation of BSFs which was published on 29 July 2022.
- Overall, the clients, health professionals and retailers who participated in the research reported very positive views of Best Start Foods (BSFs). The BSFs application process was perceived to be relatively easy and uncomplicated and using the BSFs card was largely viewed to be straightforward.
- The adoption of a card (instead of vouchers) was viewed positively, as not only did it decrease feelings of stigma but also added to the view that BSFs is an entitlement, and not a donation or ‘hand-me-down’. The monitoring of funds on the card also increased the clients’ budgeting skills, and increased their confidence and feelings of self-worth as parents and carers.
- Receiving BSFs had led to more healthy dietary practices and reduced financial burden and concerns within low-income households. Health professionals also reported positive impacts on clients and their families in terms of dietary intake and mental wellbeing.
- Research participants provided suggestions for the Scottish Government to consider in any future developments of the benefit. These included:
- Targeted promotion of BSFs to ensure that eligible families, healthcare professionals and relevant retailers are aware of BSFs, as there was evidence that there was a lack of awareness amongst all three groups.
- Improving aspects of communication from Social Security Scotland to applicants and clients including providing explanations for unsuccessful applications in decision letters; notifying clients when BSFs payments are coming to an end; improving the accessibility of communication and support for those who do not speak English by providing translated communication materials and interpreters.
- Implementing improvements to the application process to increase the speed of application decisions being made. Improvements might include: enabling applicants to submit evidence at the time of application; increasing the number of staff working on the helpline and reviewing applications; and allowing emails informing clients of their application decision.
- Improving the experience and impact of using the BSFs card by: expanding the list of healthy foods that can be bought using BSFs to further encourage healthy eating; extending eligibility of BSFs to when a child starts school to ensure children have access to nutritious food from age 3 to 5; introducing a flat rate of payment regardless of a child’s age; introducing an app for card management so people can choose how they prefer to access information and support; and allowing some essential non-food items to be bought using BSFs.
Thirty-three BSFs clients, nine retailers and five healthcare professionals took part in a telephone or video depth interviews between 13 December 2021 and 23 February 2022. The qualitative interviews explored clients’ experiences of the application process, use of BSFs, impact of BSFs and participants’ views on how BSFs could be improved in the future.