Ruth’s Irvine Times column, September 11 2018
This week the Scottish Parliament reconvened, with much of the week dedicated to the SNP’s Programme for Government for the next year.
Last year the Scottish Government delivered on policies that were radical and ambitious, and which were widely praised both in Scotland and beyond.
The public sector pay cap has been lifted in Scotland, for example, with our NHS staff receiving the highest pay uplift anywhere in the UK, whilst progressive changes to income tax have ensured that 7 out of 10 taxpayers are now paying less than they did the year before.
Scotland also became the first country in the world to implement minimum unit alcohol pricing, and of course, we passed the landmark Social Security Bill.
In my column last week, I discussed how our new Social Security Scotland service will make its first welcome payments this month for Carer’s Allowance Supplement to our carers, a 13% increase to the rate of Carers’ Allowance which will bring it into line with that paid for Job Seekers’ Allowance.
However, this will only be the start of its work, with Social Security Scotland in charge of eleven benefits when it is fully up and running.
Amongst these, I was pleased to hear the First Minister announce this week that the first Best Start Pregnancy and Baby Grant payments will be paid before Christmas 2018, some six months early.
These will be for every child in a family – £600 on the birth of a first child, £300 on the birth of any subsequent child, £250 for each child when they start nursery, and the same again when they start school.
Around 50,000 families a year will benefit, there will be no draconian two-child cap from our Scottish system, and no repugnant Rape Clause.
As the First Minister again confirmed this week, our new social service will operate with dignity and respect.
These new Best Start grants will certainly help to provide lower-income families with financial support during the key early years of a child’s life, but the Scottish Government also recognises that there are other equally important measures that can be taken to assist with child development.
Poor maternal mental health, for example, can impact significantly on a child’s emotional, cognitive and even physical development if untreated, which for some can become a serious and potentially life long issue.
Good perinatal mental health for mothers is vitally important for both their own wellbeing and that of their young children.
I was therefore particularly pleased to hear from the First Minister that an additional investment of £250 million has been committed to reform the way that we treat poor mental health in children and adults.
This funding will help by delivering 430 new school, college and university counsellors, and fast-track specialist treatment systems for those with serious mental illness.
Providing more counselling support will ultimately prevent unnecessary suffering for women and families, and will help to improve children’s early experiences and remove future pressures.