Labour politicians back baby box roll-out for England and Wales

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The Scottish Government’s baby box initiative has won backing from an unlikely source - two leading Labour politicians.

Opposition parties in Scotland have criticised aspects of the scheme that sees families with newborns issued baby care essentials in a box that doubles as a bed.

But the baby box concept has won the backing of Welsh assembly member Mark Drakeford, who is standing for the leadership of his party and could become the next First Minister of Wales.

The MP for Barnsley Central, Dan Jarvis has also called for the UK Labour Party to adopt the policy and roll out baby boxes across England.

READ MORE: Baby boxes won’t help mothers breastfeed, Labour claims

Their comments are in contrast to the scepticism voiced by Scottish Labour. The party backed the baby box in principle when it was first announced in 2016, but Labour MSP Monica Lennon called the policy a “massive missed opportunity” over claims that it didn’t do enough to promote breastfeeding.

Another Labour MSP, Mary Fee said the Scottish Government “needs to ensure the boxes are safe” after fears were raised that boxes could pose a fire risk.

Mr Drakeford, who served as Welsh Health Secretary from 2013 to 2016, described baby boxes as a "great proposal" that could help tackle child poverty and health issues.

“We would start it with a pilot scheme in a defined geographical area which would be evaluated to find out what works best for parents and to assess its impact,” Mr Drakeford told BBC Wales.

The Cardiff West AM added: “If we’re serious about moving the way we spend our money to preventative services, helping people to get the best start in life rather than intervening when things go wrong, then this could be a very modest way in which we could demonstrate that principle in Wales.”

Meanwhile, Mr Jarvis suggested baby boxes as policy his party should adopt in a contribution to a new book from a group of Labour MPs entitled ‘Spirit of Britain, Purpose of Labour’.

The Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock, who edited the book, said Labour had "fundamentally failed to reinvent itself” and risked becoming a "Marmite, love us or hate us party” that lacked relevance in people’s lives.

The SNP welcomed support for the baby box from Labour politicians, claiming it “contrasts with some of the predictably churlish reaction from their Labour colleagues in Scotland”.

A party spokeswoman said: "With the Royal College of Midwives recommending that the baby box scheme be rolled out across the rest of the UK, this initiative is yet another example of Holyrood setting an example for Westminster.

“The SNP has come up against political opposition to the baby box not for what it is but for what it stands for – equality for all – and we welcome any support from across the political spectrum for this Scottish Government initiative that sends a positive message that we are all equal at birth and in life, and that every child matters.”

READ MORE: Midwives call for universal baby box roll-out across UK

The baby box concept originated in Finland, where the government began handing out essential items to new parents in the 1930s.

Speaking as the policy was rolled out on an opt-in basis to all 58,000 new mothers in Scotland last year, Nicola Sturgeon said the baby box “provides practical help for parents and has reduced infant mortality and improved child health.”

However, some experts have challenged whether the baby box is behind a decline in infant mortality rates.