The ‘Scottish baby box’: TikTok expands the debate on the welfare state

Childbirth nurse Jen Hamilton had no choice but to subtitle her entire reaction video on Tik Tok like this.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 November 2023 Saturday 09:26
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The ‘Scottish baby box’: TikTok expands the debate on the welfare state

Childbirth nurse Jen Hamilton had no choice but to subtitle her entire reaction video on Tik Tok like this. This American healthcare worker recorded the expressions on her face while watching another video on that social network, in this case that of a pregnant Scottish woman who opens and comments on everything that is inside her Scottish Baby Box, the box that they receive for free. all people expecting a child in Scotland since 2017 and which contains several changes of clothes, gauze pads, a hooded towel, a baby thermometer, a portable changing mat, a play mat, stories and many other items necessary for a newborn and a woman in the puerperium.

The box itself is designed so that it can be converted into a bassinet suitable for the first months, with sheets, blankets and a mini mattress that also go in the package.

The Scottish initiative is not the only one of its kind. In Argentina, Social Security launched the so-called Qunita Plan a few years ago, which distributes about 14,000 units of kits for newborns each year, regardless of family income, and which includes a bassinet, a toiletry bag with pharmacological products, clothing and other utensils. And in Chile there is a similar concept called Nuevo Ajuar, from the Chile Crece Contigo government program. In reality, they are all inspired by the oldest of these systems, the so-called “Finnish box”.

In the Nordic country, the state provides all families expecting a baby with a reusable box as a crib containing a mattress, sheets, clothes and diapers. Mothers have the option of accepting the box or exchanging it for a check for about 200 euros, but 95% choose the newborn package, which has acquired a legendary aura over the decades. It began to be distributed in the 1930s to families in poverty, when infant mortality was still very high in Finland, and it became a universal measure in 1949. The Finnish fund is attributed a fundamental role in the decrease in that rate, and over the years the contents of the box itself have reflected different attitudes towards parenting: pacifiers and bottles were eliminated in 2006 to promote breastfeeding and a decade ago, the disposable diapers that had been introduced in 1969 to return to fabric ones, considered more sustainable.

However, and although there are many videos on networks of Finnish women opening their baby boxes, some with tens of thousands of likes, it has been the Scottish Baby Boxes that have become a small viral phenomenon, driven by users (especially female users). ) Americans who cannot believe such a “gift” from the state, coming from a country in which public healthcare is not universal and the law does not oblige companies to consider maternity leave for people who have a child. “In the richest country in the world, what we do instead of giving things to babies is cut taxes on the rich and spend trillions on military infrastructure,” writes a user of the Scottish videos.

In Nurse Hamilton's reaction video, which has almost 30,000 comments, there are several crossed debates and testimonies such as that of a mother of two children who says that a week after giving birth to the youngest, what she received is not a box with bodies and diapers but a call from his boss asking him when he was going to start his shift, or that of a woman with a debt of $9,000 for giving birth without public health coverage. There are also many that detail how much they had to pay in their private insurance for giving birth (an average of more than $18,000, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, but the figure if the birth ends in a cesarean section), how much is counted every extra, such as holding the baby skin to skin (direct contact). Some insurance policies ask for amounts like $40 if the father wants to support his newborn child.

Another curious thing that happens in those Tik Tok comment sections is a kind of competition for welfare state benefits between citizens of different countries, almost always aimed at shaming Americans for their lack of public policies. “In Greece there is a similar system and when girls turn eleven years old they receive a box with books and materials for feminine hygiene,” explains one user. “In addition to the box we also have free school meals in schools and a check for 500 pounds,” add other Scottish women. “In Serbia we receive a similar fund, and about $1,500 for each baby, plus 14 months of fully paid maternity leave.”

For Kelly McKowen, an American anthropologist and professor at Southern Methodist University, who specializes precisely in the history of the welfare state in Europe, the reactions of Americans to these types of videos and comments are very significant. "They are fantastic! They look shocked, surprised. They are realizing something profound: government does not work the same everywhere, and there are places where taxes are used to improve people's lives. On top of that, Americans tend to see public 'free stuff' as something negative, because they think that someone else always benefits, but seeing those pieces of good quality, better quality than many Americans can afford, and that they are For everyone it is a culture shock. In those videos you are seeing the American political imagination expand in real time.”

McKowen believes that the attitudes that millennials and members of Generation Zeta have in the United States regarding public policies are very different from those of previous generations, who are less in favor of state intervention, and that being exposed via social networks to other lifestyles contribute to that change – something similar is being pointed out these days on a different issue, American public opinion towards the war in the Middle East.

The testimonies on networks would be lowering the tone of an opinion published in the mainstream media, traditionally very pro-Israeli. “Despite generational differences, people who are 20 and 30 years old today want things similar to what their parents and grandparents had: stability, security, continuity, dignity. Unlike their parents and grandparents, however, many of them now think that the state can be a tool, not an obstacle, to achieving that.” And there networks have a fundamental role, he believes.

“A video on Tik Tok or some photos on Instagram works the same as a book or an academic article, it shows people that things can be different. If Norway or the United Kingdom can, why can't we?” He also experienced that revelation as a young man. “I moved to Norway after university and saw that many young Norwegians had jobs, apartments, children. Most of my American friends didn't have those things and many still don't, even though they desperately want them. There comes a point when you either abandon your dream or decide that you will only achieve it if you change society. In a tiny way, a Tik Tok on a Scottish or Finnish box can plant the idea in someone that that type of society can be built.”