Here are the headlines BBC Scotland chose:
‘Children in Scotland are amongst the unhealthiest in Europe according to a review by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.’
‘It says poverty is the main cause.’
‘It accuses the governments of all four home nations of failing to focus on their needs.’
(BBC Scotland News, 26.1.17 (between 06.25 to 09.05am)
I’m not going to argue with the first two points but I am going to argue about the third. It’s a lie. I can find nowhere in any part of the RCPCH documents any ‘accusation’ against the Scottish government. Indeed the word ‘accusation’ is not anywhere in the full report. There is no use of the words ‘fail’ or ‘failure’ and only one of ‘failing’ but only in the context of breastfeeding. Here, rather than any accusation are the key actions recommended. Note carefully the references to phenomena not really UK wide and which begin the possible process in a responsible news agency of informing the Scottish audience more accurately:
Key actions – UK wide
- Each UK Government to develop a child health and wellbeing strategy, coordinated, implemented and evaluated across the nation
- Each UK Government to adopt a ‘child health in all policies’ approach
- UK Government [not each] to introduce a ban on the advertising of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt in all broadcast media before 9pm
- Each UK Government to develop cross-departmental support for breastfeeding; this should include a national public health campaign and a sector wide approach that includes employers, to support women to breastfeed
- An expansion of national programmes to measure the height and weight of infants and children after birth, before school and during adolescence
- A reversal of public health cuts in England, which are disproportionately affecting children’s services
- The introduction of minimum unit alcohol pricing in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, in keeping with actions by the Scottish Government
- UK Government to extend the ban on smoking in public places to schools, playgrounds and hospitals [already done in Scotland]
- UK Government to prohibit the marketing of electronic cigarettes to children and young people
- National public health campaigns that promote good nutrition and exercise before, during and after pregnancy
Surely a responsible news agency funded by Scots, should mention some of the above? Further into the main report you find these (page numbers in brackets) all suggesting the situation is better in Scotland:
‘Latest data: In 2015, the rate of children on a CPP or Child Protection Register was in the mid-40s per 10,000 across Wales, England and Northern Ireland. The rate in Scotland was considerably lower at 27 per 10,000. (88)
Latest data: In 2014 the Infant Mortality Rate across the UK was 3.9 deaths per 1,000 live births: 3.9 in England and Wales, 3.6 in Scotland, and 4.8 in Northern Ireland. (15)
Latest data: The mortality rate per 100,000 population for children aged one to nine years in 2013/2014 was 12.1 in the UK overall and 12.2 in England and Wales, 11.8 in Northern Ireland and 11.1 in Scotland. (20)
Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland meet the WHO target of having vaccination rates for the full course of the 5-in-1 vaccine at 12 months above 95%; England falls below this target at 94.2%.(37)
Latest data: The proportion of 15- year-old girls with high life satisfaction scores in England, Scotland and Wales in 2013/2014 were 71%, 76% and 72% respectively. (68)
Latest data: The proportion of 15- year-old boys with high life satisfaction scores in England, Scotland and Wales in 2013/2014 were 84%, 88% and 84% respectively. (69)
Latest data: The conception rates, per 1,000 population, of 15- to 17- year-old females in 2014 were 23, 21 and 25 for England, Scotland and Wales respectively.’ (80)
There are also short nation-specific summaries. Only the Scottish one has anything good to say:
‘There have been notable improvements in health indicators for children over recent years but the rate of improvement is slower than it should be. There is much that the Scottish Government is doing to reduce the impact of poverty and inequality and there is much in Scotland that can be celebrated and learned from.’
So, all of the above suggests that the Scottish Government, after ten years, is achieving results in protecting us from the worst of Westminster austerity cuts in important areas such as health and poverty. I’ve written about some of this before this before.
First from the conclusions of: THE IMPACT ON SCOTLAND OF THE NEW WELFARE REFORMS by Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University October 2016 at:
‘Important elements of the welfare system are being devolved to Scotland…. However, the devolution of welfare powers should not obscure the continuing role of that Westminster plays in determining benefit spending in Scotland. In this report we have estimated that the post-2015 welfare reforms will result in a financial loss to claimants in Scotland of just over £1bn a year by 2020-21. This comes on top of an earlier financial loss of £1.1bn a year by March 2016 arising from the welfare reforms implemented by the Westminster Government between 2010 and 2015. Even the devolved benefits do not escape unscathed: by the time that responsibility for Personal Independence Payments is devolved in 2018, we estimate that a further £190m a year will have been taken from claimants in Scotland as a result of the on-going replacement of DLA by PIP. As a result, a smaller budget line will eventually be handed over. Welfare claimants in Scotland have lost large sums already, and are set to lose further large sums. The devolution of welfare powers will not in itself alter this stark reality.’
Second, the work of the Scottish government has already been praised but of course ignored by our mainstream media. See this:
The report: ‘State of the Nation’: Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, was presented to House of Commons December 2015. Here are some of its key findings:
‘Scotland, for example, has the smallest number of children living in poverty among the constituent nations of the UK, the lowest prevalence of low pay and far more young people from deprived areas going on to higher education.’ (iv)
The December 2015 report from the UK Government-funded and sponsored, Social Mobility and Child- Poverty Commission, was chaired by Blairite Labour Party grandee, Alan Milburn. When I saw his name I feared the worst but could not have been more wrong in my expectations. The above quote is taken from ‘State of the Nation: Social Mobility and Child Poverty’. The report commends the Scottish government for its efforts and compares these more than favourably with the neglect and the heartless actions of the UK government. However, that we should not gloat or that we must maintain, indeed increase, our efforts, does not mean that we should not be able to note the progress achieved so far. How else can we gauge what remains to be done? How else can we gather the strength to push on? How else can we build the strong sense of collective identity required to confidently grasp the levers of full political independence required to do so?
‘Once housing costs are taken into account, relative poverty ranges from one in five children in Scotland (21 per cent) to nearly twice this (37 per cent) in London’. (113)
That twenty-one percent of Scotland’s children live in poverty is a monstrous blemish on the face of a democracy aspiring to much better. That it is higher everywhere else in the UK and nearly twice as high in our globalised golden capital does not excuse it, I know that. The current Scottish government makes nothing of such a comparison. It simply accepts that it is unacceptable and is doing what it can to remedy the situation.
‘The trends in one of the key drivers of child poverty – employment – are also encouraging:
- The proportion of children in Scotland who live in workless households has decreased rapidly in recent years and is slightly lower than the UK average – only 10.9 per cent of children in Scotland live in workless households compared to 15.8 per cent in 2012 and 11.8 per cent in the UK as a whole;
- More than six out of 10 (62.5 per cent) children in Scotland live in households where all adults are in work, making Scotland the region with the most ‘fully working’ households in the UK – for example, only 54.6 per cent of children in England live in households where all adults are in work;
- Scotland has the second highest parental employment rate of any region of the UK: 83.2 per cent of people with dependent children are in work. This is driven by very high employment of mothers in couples; 79.6 per cent of whom are in work compared to 71.9 per cent in England. However, lone parents in Scotland have a relatively low employment rate – only 62.2 per cent are in work (compared to, for example, 69.8 per cent in the East of England and 69.2 per cent in Wales).’ (169)
Finally, a very important factor in reducing poverty and inequality is the willingness of the rest of the population to support political moves to do so. Here’s some evidence that we are willing and more so than the English are:
‘An independent Scotland would be able to use a wider set of fiscal levers – taxes and benefits – to address inequality concerns. But would the Scottish electorate support greater progressivity? The 2011 British Social Attitudes Survey provides limited evidence that it might. Scots are more likely than English voters to think the gap between high and low incomes is too large (78% v. 74%); are more likely to support government efforts at redistribution (43% v. 34%); are more likely to say that social benefits are not high enough (6.2% v. 3.6%); and more likely to say that unemployment benefits are too low and cause hardship (22% v. 18%). (23)
You’ll see the authors grudgingly suggest that the evidence for our greater willingness to support greater ‘progressivity’ is ‘limited’. Is ‘are more likely to support government efforts at redistribution (43% v. 34%) or 9% more limited? I don’t agree at all. Indeed Jackie Bird said it was a big number a day or two ago.
Finally, and also missed by BBC Scotland, evidence of real concern and willingness to act on the part of the Scottish Government:
‘The First Minister announces £13 million for councils to help combat inequality.’ (STV, 14.11.16 at 6pm)
‘We see division and unfairness all around.’ (Theresa May on BBC Scotland, 14.11.16 at 6.30pm)
STV went on to repeat the headline telling us that there has been a Scottish Government announcement, that addressing inequality is a ‘key priority for the Scottish Government’ and that there has been a new report from Heriot-Watt University on the same topic.
BBC Scotland showed us Theresa May saying the above, followed by Nicola Sturgeon and then Donald Trump echoing her implied desire to help the poor. They don’t mention the news of the £13 million at all.
STV then let us hear Professor Glen Bramley of Heriot-Watt University, explain quite explicitly that the UK Government did have agreed poverty targets, even a child poverty act but that legislation had been withdrawn by the UK Government post 2015.
So, back to the opening statement about ‘accusing the governments of all four home nations’ – a big dirty fib.
‘State of the Nation’: Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, presented to House of Commons December 2015 at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/485926/State_of_the_nation_2015__social_mobility_and_child_poverty_in_Great_Britain.pdf
‘Inequality in Scotland: trends, drivers, and implications for the independence debate’ by David Bell and David Eiser, Division of Economics Stirling Management School University of Stirling at: http://www.centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk/sites/default/files/papers/inequality-paper-15-nov-final.pdf