Next week will mark one year since the Scottish Government’s baby box scheme was rolled out across the country.
Since then, 50,000 newborn babies have been welcomed into the world with a box packed full of love and pride.
These boxes send a strong message that we are all equal at birth and in life, and that every child matters.
Just last week, the Royal College of Midwives praised Scotland’s baby box scheme and supported the universal provision of baby boxes across the whole of the UK. They said the boxes are a ‘positive gift’ that are likely to reduce the risks associated with unsafe co-sleeping, particularly in more deprived communities.
The SNP has come up against political opposition to the baby box, but we know the Tories oppose it not for what it is but for what it stands for – equality for all.
The same is true of scrapping higher education tuition fees. The SNP abolished tuition fees because we wanted everyone to have an equal chance to go to university no matter whether their parents were rich or poor. And for the third year in a row this year, we set a new record on widening access. This week’s exam results showed record numbers of students from Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas successfully gaining a place at university. That is progress.
The baby box plays an important part, alongside free school meals for all P1-3 children as well as the £750million Attainment Fund, in the drive to tackle inequalities in Scottish society and close the attainment gap between the poorest and richest children.
The idea of the box is based on the principle that the most effective interventions are early in a child’s life, which is where my work in the Scottish Government is focused. But supporting children early on in life and reducing the attainment gap cuts right across the SNP Scottish Government’s work. For example, alongside the baby box, the new Scottish social security system includes a new best start grant that will provide payments of £600 for the first child in low income families. We are also reinstating payments of £300 for second and subsequent children, previously abolished by the Tories, meaning that a family with two children could receive £1,900 of support during their children’s early years – £1400 more than they would receive under the previous UK Government system.
While Tory welfare cuts tip families into destitution and drive more and more working families to food banks, the Scottish Government is spending over £125million this year alone to protect those on low incomes from Tory austerity, and using the limited powers we have over welfare to create a social security system based on dignity and respect.
We are also doubling publicly funded early learning and childcare by 2020, and we have introduced a £50million child poverty fund, which supplements the £39million fund that has already been tackling poverty over the last year.
In this, the Year of Young People, from the baby box through to childcare, the school clothing grant, attainment funding and widening access, we are changing the life chances of young people across this nation.
I’ll be in Helmsdale next week celebrating Scotland’s first community land week.
Twenty five years on from the historic Assynt crofters’ buyout, this year the Garbh Allt Community Initiative bought around 3,000 acres of land near Helmsdale with funding from the SNP Government’s £10m Land Fund as well as the Beatrice Partnership Fund.
The East Sutherland community is just one example of nearly 500 community groups that are now in charge of their own destiny because of Scotland’s land reform agenda.
People are well and truly at the heart of land reform in Scotland, which has brought over half a million acres of land into community ownership.
Community Land Scotland’s research showed that communities that buy their own land reap a number of benefits, such as reversing depopulation, creating jobs and making money that can be invested back into the community.
Anything we can do to encourage more people to live and work in Scottish communities should be encouraged, especially in the face of a damaging Tory hard Brexit.
Despite the challenges that remain, we have made huge progress in bringing Scotland’s land back into the people’s hands. In an inclusive and progressive Scotland, it is only right that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from our assets.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I am a passionate advocate of the #DailyMile.
It’s easy to fit in a short run each day and as well as the feel good factor from the exercise, I’ve really enjoyed feeling the sun (or rain) on my skin in the morning and seeing the seasons change.
Started by a primary school teacher in Stirling, the Daily Mile challenge is yet another wonderful example of Scottish innovation that has been adopted across the world.
Encouraging more people to take up the Daily Mile can help improve mental health and take us one step closer to tackling obesity in both adults and children.
The Daily Mile challenge is already helping fight obesity and improve pupil behaviour, focus and confidence in schools across the country. A study by Essex University last year found that pupils participating in the Daily Mile programme did better than expected in classroom tests simply by getting active.
This weekend, I’ll be running my Daily Mile on holiday as I celebrate my mum’s 70th birthday. Wherever you are this weekend, I hope you can join in the #DailyMile fun and help improve your health, happiness and quality of life.