Social policy - changing lives

Social policy - changing lives

16th January 2020

Citizens Advice Bureaux and Citizens Advice Scotland undertakes work to influence the development of social policy in the UK.

But what is social policy?

Social policy is, in broad terms, public policy that relates to social issues.  These social issues relate to our wellbeing and include things like housing, healthcare, education, money, jobs, welfare benefits – in short, the types of issues brought to Citizens Advice Bureaux.

The CAB network is fundamentally committed to social policy work.  The second of our two organizational aims shows what we want to achieve:

  •  To ensure that individuals do not suffer through lack of knowledge of their rights and responsibilities, or of the services available to them, or through an inability to express their need effectively and, equally
  • To exercise a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services, both locally and nationally.


How do we create change?

Citizens Advice Bureaux and Citizens Advice Scotland identify trends in the kinds of problems that people bring to them.  Once a problem has been identified as being prevalent, we then investigate why it is causing people hardship of difficulties.  For example:

  • Is there something fundamentally wrong with the policy or procedure?
  • Is there something wrong with how the policy or procedure is being implemented?
  • Is there a policy of procedure in place that is being ignored?
  • Is there a policy gap?


Ways we make a difference

Once we work out why the issue is a problem, we can then work out what course of action to take in helping provide a solution to the problems.  Ways we do this include:

  • Telling the media – either setting the agenda or responding to a story that’s current
  • Writing and distributing our evidence-based publications
  • Using consultation processes to tell government agencies what our clients experience
  • Using our networks of contacts in the organisations to share what we know and raise awareness of issues
  • Participating in and attending official government and parliamentary working groups
  • Holding meetings with government officials from both the Scottish Government and Westminster
  • Meeting and briefing politicians
  • Influencing legislation through briefing and proposing amendments
  • Providing written and oral evidence to government committees
  • Working with our sister organization in England and Wales, Citizens advice, on issues reserved to Westminster
  • Local social policy work, where an issue is especially relevant in a particular area


In 2018/2019 our Bureau submitted 236 cases to Citizens Advice Scotland; and from 1 April 2019 to 16 January 2020 we have already submitted 437 cases to Citizens Advice Scotland; over half of which relate to Universal Credit.

In a recent Universal Credit briefing sent to all 59 Scottish MPs and the Secretary of State for Work and Pension, two Drumchapel Citizens Advice Bureau case studies were used to highlight the barriers individuals face with Universal Credit:

Citizens Alert:  a west of Scotland CAB reports of two refugees with limited English who attended a CAB for support claiming UC.  These two vulnerable people face significant barriers to maintaining their claim and are at real risk of losing their UC entitlement and therefore their means to sustain themselves. 

Citizens Alert:  A west of Scotland CAB reports of a client seeking support to claim UC after a previous UC claims was closed, which resulted in the person having to beg on the street.  The person had a mental health problem, literacy issues and no digital skills, mobile phone or computer access.  The person’s previous UC claim had been closed down, most likely due to them being unable to engage with their online journal.  The person will struggle to maintain their new claim and is at risk of further sanctions.

A full copy of the briefing is available for download below.