Nicola Sturgeon’s £6m baby box is a pointless gimmick

The SNP’s “baby box” scheme is an idiotic idea that is designed to make it look like they’re doing something for everyone. But it’s pointless waste of moneys, says Merryn Somerset Webb

The SNP are in a tricky position at the moment the people who support them want a huge variety of different things. Lots of them (not all of them) want another referendum; some of them want a small state; some of them want a big state; some of them want more taxation; some want less.

So to keep their show on the road, the SNP have to keep finding a way of looking like they offer something to everyone hence the nonsense question they ask and answer in the election material they are sending out this week: "Who benefits most from our policies?" "We all do."

The problem with this, of course, is that it makes it very hard for them to have any radical or interesting policies. So we end up with idiotic muck such as Nicola Sturgeon's newly announced "groundbreaking pledge" to introduce a "baby box" scheme.

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If the SNP win in May's Holyrood elections, parents of Scotland's new-born babies will be handed a box that can double up as a cot, containing clothes, toys and nappies. Each box will cost the taxpayer £100 the total cost will be about £6m a year. This, says Sturgeon, will "help tackle child poverty and improve the chances of some of our most deprived children."

She may be right; perhaps it will. But if it is designed to help the very deprived, why give it to everyone else too? Anyone who has had a baby and isn't very deprived can tell you that the main problem post birth is not too few babygros, but too many babygros. To say nothing of too many bits of plastic, too many cuddly toys, too many pieces of clothing from Primark your sisters thought were cute (seven babygros for £7.50!), from your mother's attic that she thought were cute 35 years ago, and from all your friends' under-bed storage boxes from when their babies were born 12 months ago (it's hard to throw away stuff your babies once wore).

And the box that turns into a cot thing? The market does a good job of providing them to those who want them.

This is a classic SNP policy designed to look universal and to be nice for everyone, but basically a bit pointless. Particularly given that the market in its usual brilliance has this stuff mostly covered already: deliver a baby at any hospital in the UK and you'll have barely finished registering the chaos of new life before the Bounty lady turns up with a bag full of free stuff to distract you from it.

So what should the SNP do instead? Provide a baby box to the very poor if they think that their welfare state isn't currently providing enough support to them. And then leave everyone else (and their tax money) alone.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.