2. To ask the Scottish Government what advice and support it can provide to parents and carers who are struggling to afford nappies and infant feed, in light of recent reports regarding nappy need, difficulties in accessing baby formula at foodbanks and families with young children being forced to cut back on essentials. (S6T-01415)
Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm is one of the Scottish Government’s three critical missions and we are working closely with national and local partners to understand the scale and nature of infant and maternal food insecurity to support longer-term responses.
It is crucial to ensure that people get the right help where and when they need it. I encourage anyone who is in need to get advice from a range of services or to speak to their midwives, health visitors or family nurses, who can provide appropriate guidance on people’s money worries and help families with infants to get prompt access to appropriate nutritional support during the cost of living crisis.
Of course, I always encourage everyone who is eligible to do so to apply for the Scottish Government benefits to which they might be entitled, including best start foods, best start grants and the Scottish child payment. The Scottish Government recognises the pressure on household budgets, which is why, last year and this, we allocated almost £3 billion to support policies that tackle poverty and protect people as far as possible during the continuing cost of living crisis.
I know that the cabinet secretary shares some of my concerns about some of the heartbreaking findings that were in the
’s special investigation at the weekend, including the findings of a Joseph Rowntree Foundation survey. There was a lot in that investigation, but I will pick up on the perceived rules around the UNICEF guidelines on baby formula.
Mums are being turned away from food banks. It is not the fault of the food bank volunteers and charities, but mums are being left in tears because of the interpretation of the guidelines. Paediatrician Dr Ruth Bland has warned that watering down formula to make it last longer will quickly have a negative impact on babies’ health and we know that children are going without the nutrition that they need.
What can the Government do to work with a range of partners, including food bank charities, to ensure that people who are asking for baby formula can access it when they need it?
I thank Monica Lennon for raising that important issue and pay tribute to the
Sunday Post for highlighting the very concerning aspects of the situation that it covered at the weekend.
The UNICEF guidance recognises that, in certain circumstances, where there is no immediate alternative, food banks can make use of crisis funding to support families to purchase the right supply. The main point that UNICEF makes—and we agree with it on this—is that food banks and anyone else supporting a family that is in desperate need should refer the family to a local authority or health professional who can ensure that they get holistic support, including financial advice.
I also highlight the work that has been done on, for example, the Parent Club website to provide parents with information on how to safely make up baby formula. Monica Lennon is a right to point to the dangers of watering it down, and the information on that website sets out the point that all first formula is required to meet the same nutritional standard. It also makes the point that price does not equate to a better product. Again, we encourage everyone to seek advice from their health visitor, midwife or family nurse to ensure that they are getting the widest possible support during these difficult times.
I am grateful to the cabinet secretary. I want to mention the campaign charity Feed UK, which was founded by Dr Erin Williams. It says that many food banks do not supply baby formula because they wrongly believe that it is illegal to do so. That is not the case and we need to get that message out there.
On nappy need, I was recently asked along to NappiRunz, a small charity that is based in Edinburgh and which supplies thousands of nappies every week to families who are in need. When I was there, a health visitor popped in to collect nappies for a young mum and her baby who are in poverty. Toyin Ware, who runs the charity, fears that mums and children are becoming socially isolated because they cannot afford all the changes that their baby needs, so they are rationing nappies. Those are words that I never thought that I would say in 2023.
I have asked this of the Government previously but I will ask it again. What work is being done to address the hidden issue of nappy need? What support is available to help charities such as NappiRunz and nappy libraries provide support for families who need it?
Monica Lennon has raised a very important point. I and my fellow minister, Jenni Minto, who is here with me today, would be happy to ensure that we are doing everything that we can right across Government to work with food banks, food bank networks and others so that there is a shared understanding of the UNICEF guidance and what more we can do on that, and ensure that we are doing everything that we can to look very carefully at the issue of nappies and nappy rationing. I agree with Monica Lennon that it beggars belief that we are talking about that today in Scotland.
As I said in my previous answers, a degree of support for the issue can be given by the health service and wider advice services, but I am always happy to work with Ms Lennon on this and other issues, as I hope she knows, to see if more can be done. I include my fellow ministers in that.
There is no doubt that, as Monica Lennon has just highlighted, the soaring price of essential products is exacerbating the already challenging circumstances facing parents, particularly those who are on low incomes. What additional action is the Scottish Government taking within its limited powers and budget to support people during this cost of living crisis? What more does the cabinet secretary consider that the UK Government should be doing to help?
I will point to one thing that the Scottish Government is doing, and that is of course our five family payments, including the Scottish child payment, best start foods and the three best start payments, which could be worth up to £10,000 by the time that an eligible child turns six. I have also recently announced that we will change the regulations to remove the income thresholds from best start foods so that around 20,000 additional pregnant mums and children under three will be able to benefit from February 2024.
I also highlight the information that came out today, which is that, in 2023-24, the Scottish Government made £83.7 million available for local authorities to spend on discretionary housing payments to mitigate the bedroom tax and ensure that we are protecting families from the other damaging impacts of UK Government welfare cuts, including the low rates of local housing allowance and the benefit cap. That is £83.7 million that we could be using on further anti-poverty measures if we were not mitigating other aspects of the UK welfare system.