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In context: Scotland's baby box

Scottish Government

In context: Scotland's baby box

Since the rollout of the initiative in August 2017, more than 160,000 baby boxes have been delivered to expectant parents, providing them with essential items such as clothes and blankets. The Scottish Government say the scheme makes sure everyone gets "the best start in life". We take a closer look at the initiative, which the SNP introduced to tackle deprivation and support parents. 

What exactly is the baby box? 

It’s a free box full of essentials for babies from birth to six months, which can also be used as somewhere for them to sleep. 

The contents include, but are not limited to, scratch mittens and vests for newborns, socks, hats and sleepsuits for zero to three months, and daysuits and jersey trousers for three to six months.

In addition to clothing, the box has a mattress with a fitted sheet and a blanket. 

The contents extend to a hooded bath towel, thermometer, changing mat, bibs, toys and maternity towels, as well as the more recent inclusion of guidance on how to apply for the Scottish Child Payment. 

It’s a thorough supply of items considered useful to parents, which the government say is worth on average around £160 per box. 

How have parents reacted to the initiative?

“There’s lots of things in there that people have said time and time again they didn’t think of,” children’s minister Maree Todd tells Holyrood

“So, for example the thermometer, the ear thermometer. People were saying that’s quite an expensive piece of kit, they wouldn’t have considered buying that for their child and then it wasn’t until they needed it that they realised how important it was.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am that so many families have a decent quality thermometer at this moment of time. Clearly, we weren’t anticipating a pandemic when we sent the baby box out, when we started that policy, but it’s proved useful for the whole family.”

Where did the idea come from?

The starter kits have largely been based on a similar scheme in Finland, which dates back to 1938. At first, the package was only available to families on low incomes there, but that changed in 1949. It has been credited with playing a small part in the overall lowering of infant mortality rates in the northern European country and has now been available for 83 years.

The baby box was piloted in Scotland for three months between January and March 2017, in two local authority areas – Clackmannanshire and Orkney – before its rollout in August 2017, so the registration and delivery process, as well as the contents, could be refined. The Scottish Government distributed 160 boxes to families with a due date in that period.

Does the scheme operate anywhere else?

Versions of the scheme are operated by a number of NHS facilities in England. The programme is also due to be rolled out in Ireland in the second half of this year. It was included in the country’s programme for government but there have been delays because of COVID-19.

Fine Gael politician Neale Richmond, who campaigned for the initiative to be introduced in Ireland, first learned of the box during a trip to Scotland for a parliamentary rugby match.  

“It’s a bit of a mad one,” he said in a television interview. “We have a parliamentary rugby team and I’m the captain of the Irish team and the captain of the Scottish team is their children’s minister, Maree Todd. 

“We were over in Edinburgh for an international a couple of years ago, [we went] up to her office [and she said] ‘this is our box’... I was like ‘this is amazing’. All these things that we never thought you need.”

However, Richmond isn’t the only politician to learn of the policy from the Scottish minister. 

Todd adds: “Because I’m in the Scottish Parliament rugby team one of the things I’m keen to show any visiting parliamentarians is the baby box. I show it to all of them. 

“Neale Richmond, I think partly because he was in that zone, he had just had a baby, I think was really taken with the idea. 

“I’ve also shown it to Huw Irranca-Davies, who played for the Welsh team… and they’re going with a baby bundle idea – a gift to all families of essentials. So, they’re taking a similar approach, not quite the same, not a baby box, but not wildly different.”

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