The Holyrood baby - a report card on the first year

Written by Tom Freeman on 12 May 2017 in Inside Politics

A look at the legislation, policy and initiatives from Kirsty, the Holyrood baby's first year

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The Holyrood baby was launched to shine a light on legislation, policy and initiatives that impact on the prevention agenda. So, in Kirsty’s first year, what has the Scottish Government done to help children like her?

Legislation:

Since the Scottish Parliament’s fifth session began, and Kirsty was born, there has been only one piece of legislation passed by parliament, the Scottish Government’s budget.

The budget 

After negotiations, the Scottish Greens won concessions to limit cuts to local authority budgets and freeze the threshold for income tax on higher earners. However, campaigners still expressed concerns that families in the most deprived communities were still being hit hardest by austerity –families like Caley and Kirsty.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “This budget would need to go a lot further to be a budget to tackle poverty in any meaningful way.”

John Downie, director of public affairs at SCVO, described it as a missed opportunity.

“With the economy sluggish, inflation set to rise, social security payments to fall in real terms and the full effects of Brexit yet to kick in, we have grave concerns that there will be trouble ahead for many of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities.”

Initiatives:

Although new legislation has been thin on the ground, it would be wrong to suggest there have been no initiatives relevant to Kirsty in her first year. 

Maternity review

A five-year forward plan for maternity and neonatal care in Scotland was published in January that the Royal College of Midwives described as “a defining moment.”

Among its actions was the establishment of a new managed clinical network to focus on the perinatal mental health of mothers and infants.

Although its work will be too late for Caley and Kirsty, it will examine gaps in care and difficulties with identifying mothers who are suffering poor mental health.

The new mental health strategy promises a separate strategy for children and young people, but we have yet to see a timetable for that.

Universal vitamins

A move to provide universal vitamins for pregnant women, including folic acid, also comes too late for Kirsty and Caley.

However, if Scotland is serious about preventing birth defects like spina bifida, women should be encouraged to take folic acid before they become pregnant. 

Ideally, the supplement should be taken three months before conception and continue until the 12th week of pregnancy.

Given around half of pregnancies, like Caley’s, are unplanned, this would mean an even bolder public health policy, such as the proposition to fortify the nation’s bread, as suggested by the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition last December.

The baby box

The much publicised baby box will be delivered to every new mother this summer, so again, it comes too late for Kirsty. The box, which can be used to sleep a baby in, will also contain clothes, books and blankets.

It is based on a Scandinavian idea that has been credited with reducing infant mortality and encouraging better and earlier engagement among women with maternal health services.
It is also being tried in parts of England and Baltimore, but the reaction to the Scottish baby box has been mixed.

Questions arose over the cost of the scheme, while research for the government by Kantar TNS revealed ‘strong resistance’ from parents to using the baby box as a sleeping space.

Only 14 per cent said they would use it at night, with one Glasgow mother saying she would be “mortified” if visitors saw her baby in a box.

Scots, evidently, are less Scandinavian in their outlook than the government might like, and as we have seen with breastfeeding, cultural behaviours are notoriously hard to shift.

But the baby box is part of a wider programme of measures in early years including a commitment to improving financial support at key transition points in a child’s life.

Future plans:

Welfare

New social security powers will be administered by a new national social security agency with no private sector involvement, Minister Jeanne Freeman has confirmed. 
One Parent Families Scotland has produced a report showing that under the current UK benefits system, increasing numbers of single parents like Caley are suffering from anxiety and depression associated with the fear of being sanctioned, and conditionality is forcing them to make decisions which they feel are not in their own best interests or their children’s.

Child Poverty Bill

The Scottish Government’s Child Poverty Bill will introduce statutory targets to reduce levels of relative and absolute poverty which have been described as “ambitious” by campaigners.
But to do so will require a reversal of the current trend of rising child poverty and inequality.  

In other words, Kirsty will probably need more radical solutions than current offerings if she is to fulfil her potential.

Must try harder.

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