http://www.scvo.org.uk/long-form-posts/employability-social-justice-and-contribution-discussion-paper/employabilityScotland has much to be proud of in the importance it has placed on supporting parents to bring up their children well. It produced, in 2012, one of the first national parenting strategies in the world. It has made explicit commitment, in its National Performance Framework, to give children the “best start in life”.

Unfortunately, the UK social protection system has not provided the most effective infrastructure to deliver these aspirations. However, the increased level of responsibility for the benefits system, likely to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Bill, gives us a real opportunity for change. We can start to develop a welfare system that supports Scotland’s policy objectives, and more importantly, builds a more just and fair society through supporting our youngest citizens.

For these reasons, SCVO’s discussion paper Employability, social justice and contribution is both timely and welcome. The thrust of current UK policy (and indeed that of its predecessor) was to view the social contribution of parents as being primarily connected to their labour market activity. Raising children who are healthy, happy and productive was of much lower priority. This is despite the fact that the future shape of our society and communities will be determined by the capacity of its citizens – our current generation of children.

We can start to develop a welfare system that supports Scotland’s policy objectives, and more importantly, builds a more just and fair society through supporting our youngest citizens

In the discussion paper it is proposed that the economic and social value of parents, carers, volunteers and others who contribute through means other than employment is not only recognised but prized. Incidentally, a recent study by the London School of Economics showed that the vast majority of lone parents who had come off benefits to take up employment were still in ‘entry level’ jobs ten years later. It is arguable that their consequent contribution to the Treasury would not outweigh the social value that would have accrued if they had been enabled and supported to be the most effective parents they could be. It is also likely that their level of skill and confidence would have been enhanced. At a later stage, therefore, they would be better able to aspire to employment opportunities that were both more financially rewarding for them and for the public purse.

There are a number of approaches that the Scottish Government could consider in how it might use its new powers. Firstly, sanctions should not be part of the programme of a government that aims to promote children’s rights. Penalising children for actions over which they have no control is unfair and pernicious.

Secondly, we should be considering how we enable parents to do the best job possible. Enabling them to look after their children well should be prioritised over compelling them to take up low paid, insecure and unsatisfying work.

Thirdly we should review entitlement of both fathers and mothers to paid parental leave from employment, with full rights to return, of a sufficient duration to really give their children the “best start in life”. Appreciation is due to SCVO for starting off this important debate, and the sector should give its unstinting support.