Programme for Government roundup and reaction
4 September 2018
Following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of the Scottish Government’s programme for government for 2018-19, Children in Scotland has welcomed positive steps in a number of key areas, such as children’s rights, mental health, and the rights of EU citizens.
Meanwhile, there were several announcements which fell short of our expectations, including plans to push ahead with the Headteachers’ Charter, no Good Food Nation Bill, and no plans to top up child benefit or mitigate the two-child limit.
Here is a quick roundup of the key policy announcements and our response:
The government announced plans to incorporate the principles of the UNCRC into Scots law. Children in Scotland has called repeatedly for incorporation of the UNCRC, so this is a very positive step. However, it stops short of full incorporation which is the commitment we would ideally like to see.
We are also very pleased that that the Scottish Government will support Green MSP John Finnie’s Private members Bill on Equal Protection, which would protect children from physical punishment. This marks an important step in embedding children’s rights in policy.
The government’s school governance reforms will continue, with the Headteachers’ Charter to be brought forward with new guidance by the end of the year, granting new powers on curriculum and finance.
Children in Scotland is strongly against these proposals, which we have identified are not the most appropriate way to tackle the priority issues in Scottish education.
Children and young people’s mental health
There have been a range of positive moves in mental health, including:
- £60m investment school counselling for mental health, providing 350 new counsellors.
- An extra 250 school nurses in place, ensuring all schools will have a school nurse to provide local and immediate support.
- Training for all teachers, meaning every local authority will have access to mental health first aid by the end of academic term 2019-20.
- Moves to develop services to support community wellbeing for five to 24-year-olds.
- NHS staff to receive mental health and suicide prevention training
Each of these is welcome, but we would like to see suicide prevention training rolled out in schools, and a greater focus on the preventative services which we know work. We hope this will be taken forward by Dame Denise Coia’s new mental health taskforce.
The Scottish Government will continue its roll out of the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, including around Holiday Hunger. However, there appear to be few new commitments in monetary terms in this area.
Best Start Grant payments will be made six months earlier than planned, which is a positive step. Children in Scotland believes this is a more realistic anti-poverty measure than the old Sure Start Maternity Grant.
However, this will not fully address poverty and its consequences in early years, and we would instead advocate for a £5 top-up of child benefit, or for the Scottish Government to use its powers to mitigate against the two-child tax credit limit in Scotland.
Good Food Nation
The Good Food Nation Programme will be brought forward in Autumn – an announcement which seems to represent a climbdown from introducing legislation. Children in Scotland strongly supports the introduction of a Good Food Nation Bill and we agree with our partners Nourish Scotland that the government should reconsider this.
The announcements were also very focused on food production as opposed to tackling food poverty or unequal access to quality food, with no mention of a commitment to a Right to Food.
The government will consult on restriction of marketing of food high in fat, salt and sugar. Children in Scotland backs a restriction on marketing these products as an essential step to reduce child and adolescent obesity.
However, as the Healthier Scotland Consultation already covered this issue we do not believe further consultation on this is required.
The government announced plans to provide free sanitary products in schools and education, a move which Children in Scotland welcomes.
However, as noted in our response to Monica Lennon’s private member's bill on the issue, we would like this to be rolled out more widely in other parts of the community.
The Scottish Government will aim to ensure no fees for settled status, with plans for the government to pay for those in devolved public services.
Additionally, current EU citizens in Scotland will be given the right to vote in Scottish Parliament elections.
Both of these issues have been raised by members of our Children and Young People’s panel on Europe and are a positive move in alleviating some of the uncertainty faced by families.