Intern Blog: Helping to create a new Scottish Social Security Benefit System through lived experience.

“For anyone thinking of applying for this internship in the future, my advice would be don’t be hesitant, as it is a great opportunity for disabled people.”

By Laura Murdanaigum

Before my internship I was volunteering at the Remode Collective, a social enterprise which upcycles unwanted and unused textiles into new products. I also helped in Remode Collective’s studio sessions to design and make new clothes.

I found out about the Social Security Experience Panels internship within the Social Security Directorate of the Scottish Government through my Employment Advisor. The role interested me for two reasons. Firstly, the role interested me because it offered the opportunity to work with and support a wide range of people (including disabled people) to be able to have a positive influence in creating the Scottish benefits system. I also thought that role would give me skills and experience that would help me get a job at the Scottish Government in the long term.

The Experience Panels project is really interesting. The Scottish Government conducts research with people who have experience of receiving benefits across Scotland, and uses their views and opinions to influence the creation of Social Security Scotland.

I started as an intern in the Experience Panels team in July 2019. Working with researchers and other business support staff, I am responsible for a number of different things in my role. These include organising accessible research events, inputting surveys, processing expense forms, and publicising Experience Panels research. I also write a quarterly newsletter to inform Experience Panel members about how their views are influencing the design of the new system.

On the one hand, it feels great being able to help other disabled people with the work I do. But I’ve also really enjoyed educating a friendly team of colleagues about disabled people. I know that the team and the organisation have benefited hugely from my knowledge about stenographers, and perspective on sensory impairments more widely.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges throughout my internship though. Having worked in the third sector and the legal sector, coming into the Scottish Government was a culture shock. And, as I wasn’t used to working in a large organisation, it was also daunting learning my way around a huge maze of buildings at Victoria Quay. There were also some challenges getting my reasonable adjustments in place. At times, there were challenges organising a stenographer and organising an evacuation plan. However, it’s been really helpful having a fixed desk (in a hot-desking office) which means that people always know where to find me! Flexible working hours have also allowed me to take rests when I am fatigued.

Like the rest of the team, I started working from home in the middle of March before the lockdown due to COVID – 19. It has been hard working from home and I have always preferred working in the office as I get to see and talk to people. Working from home due to COVID – 19 has meant that we have had to make new reasonable adjustments. This means that meetings have now been done by Skype messenger or by Skype video calls. It is a very surreal situation not being around your colleagues. However, it is good having a job to return to during the week as it keeps me going. And I am very lucky as the Experience Panels team are amazing colleagues and the team also makes an effort to stay in touch.

Overall, the most interesting part of my internship was going to Orkney with my manager in order to inform the islanders about the Experience Panels and gather research that would influence future Scottish benefits. I felt that I could use both my lived experience as a disabled person and as a highlander from the rural West Highlands and Islands to connect to the people that I met in Orkney.

Throughout my year here, I have learnt how to work in a very large organisation and how different teams help from social research to policy to create the new Scottish benefits system. I have also learnt that there are various positive opportunities available from mentoring to shadowing other people in a wide range of roles across the organisation.

The advice that I have for future interns is to meet with current interns to find out what working will be like at their place of employment, as well as to get tips in general. Above all, Inclusion Scotland have been very helpful for me. My advice to any future interns would be to keep close contact with them, let them know when you have any issues, and they will support you. For anyone thinking of applying for this internship in the future, my advice would be don’t be hesitant, as it is a great opportunity for disabled people.

I have enjoyed my internship very much as I have met lovely people in my own team and in the larger Social Security Directorate. Meeting other disabled people across the organisation has given me hope that disabled people will have a voice for positive change in Scotland.