In Scottish folklore, traditionally the New Year begins with a visit from a stranger called the “first foot.” “First foot” comes bearing gifts for the house, such as pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and Scotch whisky, and is generally understood to be a symbol of good fortune and prosperity for the upcoming year. Starting from New Year’s Day 2017, the Scottish government has decided to assume the role of the “first foot”, at least when it comes to households with newborn babies. The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that the government will start distributing “baby boxes”, which contain some 50 items ranging from toys to clothes, to babies born in Scotland. But what exactly is a baby box and is it an improvement to the “first foot” tradition?
The baby box is an 80-year old scheme, first introduced in Finland by the Finnish Maternity Grants Act, given to low-income Finnish parents; during the Depression, two-thirds of Finnish mothers qualified as low-income, which meant that the “maternity pack” played an important role in providing multiple items that families might not have been able to afford otherwise. Nowadays, the Finnish maternity pack is given to all expectant or adoptive parents who live in Finland or are covered by the Finnish social security system. Alternatively, it is also possible to opt for a grant of 140 euros, however 95% of Finnish mothers choose the box as it is considered to be worth more.
The maternity pack provides, more or less, everything a baby needs the first year and works also as a relief for mothers, who undoubtedly appreciate the free items and time they save from having to shop for the baby items. Children are understood as a priority to the government and taxpayers, which indicates that, in essence, the maternity pack has an important role as a symbol of equality at grass-root level. Since its establishment in Finland, the baby box concept has been adopted, in one form or another, as far afield as New Zealand (Waikato), Mexico (Mexico City) and now Scotland.
As implied earlier, the baby box contributes to the well-being of the whole family, especially that of the mother. Today, Finland ranks as one of the best places in the world to be a mother based on five indicators: maternal health, the mortality rate of children age 5 and under, number of years of formal schooling a woman receives, gross national income per capita and the participation of women in national government. Albeit, all of this cannot be attributed to a single policy choice, debatably the baby box has been a vital factor in the construction of all of this.
As simple idea as the baby box is, it has had a significant impact on reducing infant mortality, increasing pre-natal care for mothers-to-be, it has encouraged breastfeeding, and furthermore, assisted families at the start of a child’s life. It can play a significant role in tackling child poverty and improve exponentially the chances of some of the most deprived children; no matter the background or family situation, the baby box allows each child to begin his or her life with an equally good start.
By Julian Lagus, Student in International and European Law at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, on exchange at the University of Edinburgh, EST Ambassador to Scotland. Feel free to contact Julian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ibid 4
- Ibid 1