Scotland on Sunday readers' letters: Housing is the key factor in why we’re having fewer children

Alistair Grant posed a very good question in Last Sunday's Scotland on Sunday, ‘Why are Scots having fewer children?’ Then forgot about it and ended up talking about us pensioners having to work longer.
More affordable housing needs to be built to help young couples deal with the rising costs of living. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)More affordable housing needs to be built to help young couples deal with the rising costs of living. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
More affordable housing needs to be built to help young couples deal with the rising costs of living. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The bottom line is as long as decent housing is out of the reach of most couples, or it means both parents working, couples will at best delay or at worst not have children. And if they do, I'm sure the stress caused by tight budgets and juggling time is one of the main reasons for the child mental health epidemic.

The mortgage on a £200k three bedroom ‘affordable’ home is around £800 a month, and likely to increase. Someone on an average £25k per year would have around £1600 left each month after tax, NI and a pension contribution, leaving around £800 per month for food, baby stuff, council tax, clothing – overdraft territory, and looming catastrophe if they lose their job. That's if they an scrape together a £10k deposit.

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So the choice is to wait or for both to work. Assuming there are no grandparents willing to do five days per week of childminding and the parents can't manage their shifts, the cost of childcare is around £60 per day, or £1200 per month per child for the first three years until government childcare payments are available, leaving a second partner on the same pay scale around £400 per month to fund the overheads of working such as lunch, clothing and transport. Is it any wonder young couples think twice about the cost and stress of having kids?

The excellent BBC Scotland documentary "Priced Out" is a devastating critique of the Scottish Government’s failure to act on helping families with funding, planning legislation reform and failure to adopt some of the successful first time buyer programmes in England. They don't need a £25k questionnaire to find out why couples aren't having babies. The answer is staring them in the face: get more good, cheaper houses built.

Allan Sutherland, Stonehaven

Exploding myths

John F Robins mistakenly thinks nuclear power plants are ‘tools of mass destruction’ (Letters, February 13). He thinks radioactive waste remains ‘lethal for over 50,000 years’. Few fission products have a half-life (HL: the time taken for activity to halve) that long. It is also simplistic as the different elements in the waste have different half-lives. Moreover, the longer the half-life the less radioactive the element is, e.g. Plutonium-239 has an HL of 24,000 years but its low radioactivity means it is safe to handle.

The dangerous fission products are things like Samarium-151 (HL 90 years). The total radioactivity of a mixture of pure fission products decreases rapidly for the first several hundred years before stabilising at a low level that changes little for hundreds of thousands of years. In any case, fission products constitute only about three per cent of all radioactive waste from a power reactor. Most waste is far less radioactive.It's not true that no one knows how to store and manage radioactive waste (not just from nuclear power but from industry and medicine). The waste has been handled safely at Sellafield since 1965. It sends low-level waste to disposal at Drigg and holds the high-level waste until a geological disposal facility is built. Plans are in hand for the latter. There is no limit to the amount of such waste that could be stored until it becomes harmless.It's hard to see how a nuclear power station could be any use to a terrorist. The stations have armed guards and what could a terrorist do to it anyway? Nuclear power station in the UK cannot explode.The accidents Mr Robins mentions are irrelevant to the UK nuclear power programme. The Windscale fire was not in a power station; the accident at Three Mile Island was due to a ventilation fault and harmed no one; Chernobyl was a type of reactor that has been built nowhere else in the world and would not have gained approval in the UK, those who died were mainly fire-fighters; Fukushima was not an accident in the power station but the result of a tsunami that overwhelmed pumps, only one worker was harmed.Exaggerating the defects of nuclear power is not a rational argument against its use. If the alternative is a lack of electricity then it’s an option that needs to be considered.

Steuart Campbell, Science writer, Edinburgh

Safety record

John F Robins (Letters, February 13) is right to point out that nuclear reactors produce potentially lethal radioactive waste but wrong to say that for 80 years we haven't had a clue about safely storing and managing it. Apart from its total volume being small (I have seen it at Sellafield) it has been kept safely all that time. It has harmed nobody, unlike the climate catastrophes caused by greenhouse gas-induced climate change​.​

To put the record straight, Windscale, the only British reactor accident, wasn't a power station but only made plutonium for H bombs. It was designed in 1947. The fire there in October 1957 killed nobody, unlike the 17 miners who died in the coal mine disaster at Kames Colliery, Ayrshire, a month later.

But it's Windscale that has entered the national consciousness.

Hugh Pennington, Aberdeen

Funding facts

Mr. Parkin's letter, ‘Facts and Figures’ (Sunday, February 13), about who would ‘pay’ state pensions following independence for Scotland, fails to consider that the responsibility for ‘funding’ our current state pension lies with Westminster – to the extent that we've paid our individual National Insurance contributions to that government. That ‘funding’ responsibility will apply regardless of which country in the world we choose to live – just as it currently does.

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At the time of the 2014 Independence Referendum, the then Scottish Government stated a desire for responsibility for ‘payment’ of accrued UK state pension to residents of Scotland, following independence, to be transferred to the new Scottish Government. That also appears to be the wish of the current Scottish Government, as voiced by the First Minister and her deputy.

However, the First Minister has also stated that the way the transfer of responsibility would be managed would be ‘subject to negotiation’ (e.g. to cover ‘funding’). Those negotiations will actually be conducted between our respective Civil Service departments and, as such, will be civilised – not some kind of heated ‘argument’ that seems to be envisaged by Mr. Parkin although, having seen public performances by the Westminster Brexit Cabal, I can understand his reservations on that!

Regardless of whether responsibility for ‘paying’ our accrued UK state pension entitlement remains with Westminster, or transfers to Scotland, those pension rights will be guaranteed to the level of our contributions.

Ian Waugh, Dumfries

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Ask the experts

Euan McColm (Home truths, February 13) states that it is a ‘lie’ and ‘rubbish’ that the government of the remainder of the UK would pay state pensions to residents in an independent Scotland, but does not provide any facts in support.

I recommend that he gets the facts to an individual’s entitlement to State Pension at Baroness Ros Altmann summarised this entitlement in her tweet of February 10 – “Bit baffled by comments on #statePensions in #ScottishIndependence. State pensions are built up by your NI payments and paid to you whether or not you live in this country”. As an economist, former Director General of Saga group and a former Conservative Pensions Minister, she is an expert on pensions.

E Campbell, Newton Mearns

Write to Scotland on Sunday

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