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Whilst one new Mum in Britain takes her baby home to a taxpayer-funded million pound nursery, new Mums in Finland get a cardboard box.
For 75 years the Finnish state has been giving new mothers a strong cardboard box which contains an entire wardrobe of clothes for the baby, a sleeping bag, nappies, bedding, equipment: really a very big helping hand for mother and baby. Ingeniously it comes with a mattress which allows the box to double as a cot, and most Finnish babies spend their early months sleeping in this box, even in affluent families.
The baby clothes are in gender neutral colours, so a boy’s clothes can be passed on to a girl or vice versa.
Mark Bosworth, a British father living in Finland says: "We now live in Helsinki and have just had our second child, Annika. She did get a free box from the Finnish state. This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life. And now when I visit friends with young children it's nice to see we share some common things. It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together."
Meanwhile in the UK, private company Bounty is allowed access to NHS maternity wards to give mothers a Bounty pack on condition they sign up to their ‘parenting club’. The packs contain free product samples, money off coupons, advice leaflets, and information on how to claim child benefit. All of which may be welcome to some Mums. The information thus gathered on new Mum and baby is then sold for profit to many other private companies.
Recently Mumsnet published a poll which revealed that many women felt the Bounty representative had invaded their privacy, and in some cases acted unethically.
In 17 per cent of cases, they said Bounty reps implied they would not be able to claim Child Benefit if they didn’t fill in Bounty's commercial forms. One Mum said: "After 80 hours' labour I did doubt myself when Bounty woman said I needed to register for [a] pack for child benefit." 82 per cent of women surveyed felt that the NHS should not give commercial representatives access to a maternity ward to gather information to be used commercially.
Belinda Phipps, CEO of the National Childbirth Trust says, “Within hours of giving birth, they are being asked questions—their name and address, details of life insurance—and they give them in good faith, thinking they’re speaking to a hospital person. In fact it’s a commercial person. The NHS is condoning a sales team collecting data from mothers in order to sell their name on to commercial interests.”
As a result of its findings, Mumsnet has set up the Bounty Mutiny campaign calling on people to send this letter to their NHS Trust , sign a petition, and ask their MP to sign an Early Day Motion in Parliament.
Bounty is now launching a “How did we do” feedback scheme, but says this was already planned, and the timing is purely coincidental, not a response to the campaign.
So in Finland, new Mums from all backgrounds are treated with generosity and equal respect. In the UK they are given a few free samples and seen as ripe for commercial exploitation.
These two contrasting stories say a lot about the values being promoted in our country. Private profit is promoted over public service, and we are encouraged to resent our ‘shirking’ neighbours, as we ‘strive’ in a ‘global race’, rather than co-operate and care for each other.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet