Universal benefits used to be all the rage but the Scottish Government’s Baby Box scheme, which is designed to greet every newborn with a cardboard box full of useful kit, is in the firing line again.

This time the Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Donald Cameron MSP, has accused the Scottish Government of vastly underestimating the cost of the boxes. He argues that it makes more sense to focus on providing new parents with practical information and ongoing support with their child’s upbringing than to deliver a box full of stuff to every expectant family – rich or poor.

You might think Home-Start UK should be on the side of the critics. After all, we keep being told that the public purse is stretched, that spending on Baby Boxes must mean there is less for volunteer-led family support.

However, arguing over who should get which relatively small slice of Scotland’s £31 billion budget pie is a little like counting drops of rain. The focus required leaves you incapable of noticing that the rising floodwaters are about to wash your house away. As long as we debate the size of pie slices we are not looking at the bigger picture. All our focus and energy goes on asking for a little bit less to be spent on this so we can have a little bit more spent on that, and we fail to address what is really needed to make Scotland the best country to be born in.

The Baby Box is a carefully planned welcome to our world for the 56,000 babies born in Scotland every year. The box contains a mattress and works as a safe bed for very young babies. It was credited with helping to reduce infant mortality when it was introduced in Finland many years ago. We are living in better times now but there is still a lot to be said for helping families keep their precious babies safe.

The Baby Box also contains over 30 items including playsuits, a papoose, a playmat, a natural sponge, scratch mittens and baby books. This generous starter kit will be a real boost for hard-up families and, because every new baby’s parents get one, it sends an important sign that every child matters.
The idea that tough choices must be made between a gift of stuff and the gift of ongoing family support is a red herring.

On behalf of Home-Starts across Scotland I will keep on asking why it seems so impossible to offer reasonably reliable and consistent public funding to the highly cost effective, volunteer-led community family support service we provide. But I won’t get drawn into political hair-splitting.

More resource is needed to ensure Scotland truly becomes the best place to grow up in – but the Baby Box scheme is not the reason we are not there yet.

Getting it right for every child is a journey and the non-means tested Baby Box is a powerful sign we are on the right road.

Shelagh Young is Home-Start UK’s Director of Scotland and recently joined the Scottish Government’s Baby Box Governance Group.