Over the last few months, there has been a drip feed of good news relating to children, but thanks to all the blether about the constitution, it has scarcely warranted a news item before disappearing off the agenda.
Yesterday, though, rightly saw top billing for a great news story for children and young people with diabetes. The Scottish Government has stumped up the cash to ensure that every child who can use one will get an insulin pump.
And with one small step, a giant leap in the quality of life for 480 children with Type 1 diabetes will be achieved.
A small number, granted, but every child deserves the best possible start in life and coping with a life-long condition, which in some cases might be life-limiting, should be made as hassle-free as possible.
One of the Scottish Government’s objectives in delivering a better start in life for children has been to reduce the number of dental cavities. At the turn of the year, there was more good news with the announcement that 70% of primary seven children now have no signs of dental decay and nearly two thirds of children starting school have no signs.
It represents a big shift for a country that has long had an appalling track record in protecting our children’s teeth.
Another important milestone was reached in 2011 with the lowest ever levels of infant mortality recorded. Still birth and infant death is a tragedy in every case. Fortunately, it is rare, but for years in Scotland there was little improvement. Now it has come down and fewer babies than ever die in their earliest days.
But the figures do mask a worrying trend in that babies from the poorest areas of Scotland are five times more likely to die before they reach one than babies born in the richest areas.
Possible causes are smoking during pregnancy, and obesity, demonstrating that health inequalities can have the most severe impact on everyone’s life expectancy in deprived parts of Scotland.
Poverty sadly, is one issue where there is very little good news. More children are now growing up in poverty than previously and there are likely to be more still.
Save the Children has produced Our Lives, a harrowing photo exhibition and online gallery which shows, with dramatic visual impact, what poverty actually means. No table on which to do homework, no bed to call your own, damp on the walls, bare floorboards, over-crowded living conditions: this is the lot of many children of all ages and backgrounds in Scotland today.
In the last week, many families got an unexpected and unwelcome letter from HMRC, advising them that their tax credits were done and dusted. The UK Government in its infinite wisdom has decided that to save money and cut “our” deficit, families earning above £26,000 per year will no longer get a bit extra to help stretch their income. For some it means the loss of several thousand pounds a year. Gone, just like that.
Add in that many will be on the second or third year of a pay freeze, and that all are affected by rising costs to basics like heating, lighting and food, and this might well be the measure that tips many families over the edge.
It says something about us that we are prepared to allow children to pay the price for the economic madness of the noughties. Not only will many children spend their entire childhoods with constant scrimping and scraping and going without, once they reach adulthood they may find it is more of the same. Poverty is perpetual and their children will also be condemned to it. From cradle to the grave with want as a constant companion.
Of course, poverty in Scotland is relative; in developing countries, the level of want is enormous for the most basic of needs. But we are a wealthy country. We have plenty. It should not be like this.
It should not take years of determined effort to improve the chances of some babies dying too early. It should not take a huge investment in NHS dentistry to ensure children are not blighted by tooth decay. And it should not take a special fund to provide for children with a terrible disease a basic piece of equipment that could transform their lives.
And it really, really should not be that children are seen as a soft target by any government when it comes to deciding where to apply the axe. Children deserve a decent childhood. Sadly, too many in this generation may be about to lose theirs.
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