Family values aren't what they used to be

THIS week's report from the Family and Children's Trust about the spiralling cost of childcare, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, was very revealing.

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STV's Rona Dougall, centre, with Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont
STV's Rona Dougall, centre, with Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont

It's key strapline that families were paying more for childcare than for mortgage payments, underscored a number of very important messages.

Apparently, the average family, with two children, now pays some £7549 a year for childcare, as opposed to £7207 for the mortgage. Some families are also paying more on childcare than on the weekly shopping.

The UK is one of the most expensive countries for the provision of childcare in Europe, with some 26% of salary being spent on it.

Given the still traditional roles that men and women continue to occupy in our society, there can be little doubt that costs, at this level, prove disadvantageous to the development of women in the workplace.

The system of nursery and childcare provision and the associated benefits, or lack of them, combine to produce a system which is little more than an expensive mess and clearly isn't fit for purpose.

I do however, have some sympathy with our politicians' inability to provide a sustainable and affordable solution.

Childcare, like care for the elderly, is a cost which appears to grow more rapidly than our population.

People living longer is not the principal reason behind the soaring cost of elderly care. Neither can marginal increases in birth rate be held responsible for the increasing costs associated with childcare provision.

Our society and its approach to looking after its old, and its young, is what is changing. As I grew up, I recall our extended family, grandparents and aunts and uncles, all being cared for by younger members of the same extended family.

Indeed, I still have a 93-year-old aunt who we all look after, in precisely those circumstances. In some cases, they lived with us, in others, we looked after them in their own homes. Sadly, in many cases, that view of family, appears to have grown a little old-fashioned.

A more modern view is that they are the responsibility of the state, and we will visit occasionally - but only if we have time.

In the same way, our children appear to have become an inherited burden, rather than a joy, to be shared amongst the extended family and nurtured through childhood.

I appreciate that in many cases the extended family does not exist, or the elderly relative is beyond purely family care, yet the principle remains valid. In too many cases, we look for the state to fix issues, the solution for which is in our own grasp.

But why would we, when the state will do it for us? Family exists for many important reasons, yet in our culture, we appear to be moving away from its value.

We seem to have culturally forgotten the value in feeling needed, and of needing others. Isn't it a matter of great disappointment that we no longer stand by our family instinctively and without having to question the reasons why?

As human beings, each of us has an inherent desire to be taken care of, not so much the process of being taken care of, as the comfort we feel at knowing that there's someone who wants to take care of us.

No state, however well resourced, can provide that.

We all need a house to live in, a place to call our own, but a supportive family is the only thing that can build a home.

THE news, this week, that some 870,000 Scots are living in poverty is a stark reminder of the reality of life for so many in our country.

With one-fifth of our children living below the breadline and some 23,000 Scots using food banks in the last six months, it reminds us just how unfair, how unequal, our society remains.

The Scotland's Outlook Report, by a coalition of Scotland's leading charities, highlights welfare reforms, low income and soaring living costs as the key reasons for these depressing statistics.

The minimum wage is just that - minimum. It's not a living wage, and people can't live on it.

Welfare reforms are missing their intended targets and the fact that many Scots simply don't have enough to eat must be engrained both into our national consciousness and our collective shame.

I can point to areas of Glasgow with main streets full of charity shops and payday loan outlets, bookies with their fixed odds machines, and of course the pawn shops.

I watch the TV adverts for online gambling, poker and bingo. Industries all pointing towards our weakest, our most vulnerable, those who can least afford it.

Even if they win, it will not eradicate their poverty, and for every great man or woman who fought their way out, I'll show you a hundred whose dream has died.

Poverty so often hides the reality of the present, with a promise of the future, but it remains a fraud, a fraud which is designed to take even more money from our poor, making industry of their misery.

Giving up on trying to make our society more equal is like giving up on our responsibility to be human. Let's never give up.

lI AM sure that I was not alone in cringing at the STV debate last week between Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont.

I have been calling for more mature and informed debate upon the key issues surrounding the independence referendum. This, most certainly, wasn't it.

The format encouraged the worst in adversarial behaviour and both parties quickly resorted to attacking the messenger, rather than the message.

This resulted in both sides talking over each other and in an inaudible, ugly, confrontation, with very little sense being either spoken or heard, on either side.

The challenge is to encourage referendum debate, not just supply the forum for an argument.

Families

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