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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Our Kids Won’t Wait Campaign

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-10476, in the name of Claire Baker, on the #OurKidsWontWait campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the #OurKidsWontWait campaign to improve funding for disabled children in Scotland, and the importance of organisations such as The Yard that provide vital support for children with disabilities and their parents; understands that demand for the wide range of services offered by organisations such as The Yard is growing but that funding for The Yard, in real terms, has declined over the last seven years; believes that more could be done to help these organisations grow and expand services so that more children with disabilities and their families can get the support that they need; commends the efforts of four-year-old Eilish Cowan, who was born with a rare genetic condition, and her family in their campaign work with The Yard to improve funding for services for disabled children in the Mid Scotland and Fife region and across Scotland, and understands that the Scottish Government’s decision to roll forward the Children, Young People and Families Early Intervention Fund grant has a major impact on the ability of charities such as The Yard to meet demand to help some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children.


Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I thank the members who signed the motion and those who are taking part in the debate. I know that some of them had the chance to meet Eilish Cowan and her family outside Parliament last week. I also welcome the families to the gallery, and I hope that they are encouraged by the support that will be expressed in the chamber.

I lodged the motion after the financial pressures that The Yard is facing were highlighted to me by Eilish’s family, who live in my region. I am grateful to them for sharing Eilish’s story with me and for the work that they have already done in their campaign to improve funding for services for disabled children in Mid Scotland and Fife and across Scotland.

The Yard, which opened in Edinburgh in 1986, is a charity that supports disabled children and young people through adventure play, offering creative and inclusive play experiences alongside wraparound support for the whole family. It also supports families in building support networks and provides a varied programme that includes drop-in sessions, respite, specialist sessions with schools, disability training and family play sessions.

It opened a further site in Dundee In 2015, and then a site in Kirkcaldy in 2016. I will read a couple of quotes from those who have benefited from its services. One parent says:

“It really is an amazing place, and we always feel so welcomed and included. The staff are fantastic, and it’s the only place where I ever see my little boy relaxed and able to be himself without judgement”.

Another parent says:

“It’s incredibly valuable to have a space where autistic and disabled children can play with other children like themselves in an environment that is built for them. The Yard do fantastic work and there is nothing else like it in Scotland.”

Eilish Cowan was born with a rare genetic condition that means that she struggles to walk and to see like you or me, and she has a learning disability. As those who met Eilish last week will agree, she is delightful and engaging, and she certainly knows how to pose for a great photo. For Eilish and her family, The Yard is a place of pure joy—somewhere she can be who she is and not be defined by her disability.

In 2016, The Yard was delivering support for 550 children and was receiving funding of £90,000 per year from the Scottish Government. Now, seven years on, it has grown to deliver family support, respite, school and play services to more than 2,300 children in the east of Scotland. However, the funding from the Scottish Government has not increased in line with that growth in support provision, nor has there been any opportunity to discuss the need for increased funding to support the growth in demand for The Yard’s services.

In 2016, that funding was equivalent to £163 for each of the families being supported; in 2023, however, it has reduced, in real terms, to just £39 per family. The decision to roll forward grants from the children, young people and families early intervention fund at 2016 levels makes it very difficult for front-line third sector organisations to meet demand. Consequently, some disabled children and their families are missing out on vital support.

Members will be aware that this week is challenge poverty week, which is focusing minds on the need for action to tackle poverty throughout Scotland. We know that households with a disabled person have increased levels of child material deprivation in comparison with households with no disabled people and that a third of Scottish families have extra disability and care-related costs of upwards of £300 per month.

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Claire Baker for giving way and for paying tribute to the work of The Yard.

I have received representations from constituents in Dundee regarding holiday time play and respite programmes that are partly funded by Dundee City Council. The challenge that those constituents raised was about those programmes being confirmed only a matter of days before the start of the holidays. Does the member agree that predictable funding for those types of respite breaks and play functions is critical in allowing families to plan? Many of those families are in poverty and cannot plan alternatives.

Claire Baker

The member makes a fair point, and I hope that the Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise listens to it. We know that the more notice that families have, and the more support that they have around them, the more that reduces stress and helps them to plan their lives. We also know that, amid the current cost of living crisis, more needs to be done to support those families as best we can.

The Yard is just one of the organisations that have been impacted by the decisions around funding in this area. Back in April, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the TSI—third sector interface—Scotland Network wrote to the minister to raise their concerns about the administration of the children, young people, families and adult learning third sector fund and its predecessor funds. Their letter followed earlier correspondence on the impact of delays on decision making and how those delays had impacted on voluntary organisations, and it highlighted a number of changes, delays and challenges around the administration of funding, alongside concerns over how decisions on funding had been made and communicated. It stated that, in that regard, the administration was

“one of the worst the voluntary sector has experienced, impacting on children and families as well as the organisations that support them”.

While the 2016 decisions to delay and then cancel successor funds have meant that funding has effectively continued, there has been no assessment of whether those projects that were funded in 2016 are still meeting the needs of their communities seven years on or whether the funding levels are now adequate. The roll-over affects organisations such as The Yard by failing to take into account the increased demand for their provision and the increased costs of running their services, and so the spend per child has dropped significantly.

We know that third sector organisations play a key role in supporting our children, families and communities—even more so in a time of crisis—but they work within very limited resources as they do so. Many of those organisations have faced huge uncertainty as they wait for funding decisions, and they have experienced numerous delays in the process. Organisations such as The Yard are making a vital contribution to the lives of disabled young people and their families. Every £1 invested in The Yard yields a social return on investment of £23, but the current funding approach means that the amount of money that is going in is not being adjusted to reflect increasing demand.

While The Yard has received some additional resource to support delivery of the Promise, the rolling forward of its core funding without adjustment means that it is effectively being penalised for growing demand. I know that the minister does not want organisations such as The Yard to have to fight for support like that, and I urge her to find a solution. I ask the Scottish Government to consider a review of the funding model and to ensure that organisations that can demonstrate their impact in supporting children and young people with disabilities and tackling poverty are able to access improved support.

I close with another quote from a parent—this time from Lawrence, who is Eilish’s dad. His plea is this:

“Our kids won’t wait any longer. The First Minister says his priorities are tackling poverty and improving childcare. Charities like The Yard are essential services delivering both these priorities for some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland. We need to see a fairer funding approach.”

I very much agree.


Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

I thank Claire Baker for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

When most people hear the phrase “Scotland Yard”, they think of the Metropolitan Police, but a young person growing up on the northern side of Edinburgh would know it as a park that resides between Rodney Street, which marks the boundary of my constituency, Eyre Place and Royal Crescent. I used to go to Scotland Yard when I was a young boy, and I saw then that there was a part of the park that, although I was not quite sure what was there, sounded really fun. It sounded like it made a difference.

It was not until I became a member of the Scottish Parliament that I fully understood, when I was invited by Celine Sinclair to visit The Yard. I found out then not only the difference that it was making for my constituents and for young people and families around Edinburgh, but that it had grown into the organisation that it is now, providing support in Fife and Dundee. After that visit, it was a real privilege for me to be asked to sponsor in the Parliament the 30th anniversary celebration of The Yard’s contribution to the common good.

Since then, we have experienced the pandemic. Claire Baker rightly talked about the wraparound support and the adventure play services. Indeed, I experienced them on my visit and saw at first hand what a difference they make. Such support made a tremendous difference during the pandemic. I heard as much from constituents at the time, and I have heard about it again in recent days and weeks as constituents have written to me in support of the motion and its ask for the organisation.

It is important to recognise that, since I was elected as an MSP in 2016, the contribution that the Scottish Government has been able to make to The Yard has not been increased, and that is what we are considering today. The organisation is extremely effectively run, and it is extremely effective at private fundraising. Not only does it make an impactful difference, as is well documented, and not only does it have a strong financial position generally, but, as has been said, it has a delivery capacity whereby every £1 invested in it generates a social return on investment of £23.

We are in very challenging circumstances for the public finances—I am very much aware of that—but I should highlight that we are currently trying to provide support in various ways to families who also need the support provided by The Yard, whether through the child disability payment, for which I had the privilege of being responsible when I was Minister for Social Security and Local Government, or through the various other initiatives that I am sure the minister will talk about in her summing up, which other members will be aware of. It would seem very worth while, therefore, to give consideration to meeting the ask from The Yard and to provide that additional support and the necessary uprating, which has not been applied since 2016.

I know that the First Minister will visit The Yard in the next few weeks, and I am sure that he will be as inspired and impressed as I was by what it does. I hope that, particularly during this challenge poverty week, the Scottish Government can consider what fair funding it can provide to this remarkable organisation.


Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

It is, as always, a pleasure to follow Ben Macpherson, particularly in this members’ business debate. I, too, compliment Claire Baker on getting a slot to talk about the #OurKidsWontWait campaign.

Before I thank anyone else, I have to thank Eilish Cowan for what are, without a doubt, some of the most entertaining photos that have been taken outside the Parliament. That is not just because of her enthusiasm and her ability to capture the attention of those around her, but because of those who surrounded her and because of the pleasure of watching messy play going on.

In the short time that I have, I want to talk about the power of play, because what we discover at the heart of this campaign, and in the hearts of our disabled children and the families, friends and communities who support them, is the true excellence of play. That includes the fact that it is fun. It is incredibly fun to watch people cover their trousers in chalk or push water around and to watch them forget about some of the most difficult periods of their lives because they are lost in playing next to, or with, someone and in just making a mess. It is incredibly powerful.

When I saw all of that happening while trying to be photographed with someone far more photogenic than I am, I suggested that the families bring messy play along with them, because I feel that those who are sitting in the chamber—and, indeed, other MSPs in Parliament—could certainly take great advantage of an hour and a half’s messy play somewhere. It might help them put aside some of the tensions, conflicts and perhaps contradictions that seem to fill so much of our daily lives here.

Just sitting next to someone and messing around with spaghetti in water or with Play-Doh—or, as I said, messing around with chalk and even getting it on your clothes—can bring people together. When young people, particularly young disabled people, do so, they are, to quote one of the parents whom Claire Baker quoted,

“relaxed and able to be”


“without judgment.”

It is so important for our young people to achieve that as they grow up. It can be encompassed in the word “fun”. All our young people should have the time to have fun, and they should be able to forget the pressures that their parents might be under and the financial pressures that places such as The Yard are under. I know that the adults who surround those young people do their very best to stop those pressures being reflected in the experience that young people have.

To be able to invest £1 and get a social return on investment of £23 is phenomenal. To do so when it enables a giggling child—or perhaps two or three children giggling and laughing together—to forget their disability and understand that they are, first and foremost, human beings and that the empathy of the community surrounds them is phenomenal, too. We should treasure that, because our disabled people bring us so much more than they might, in the first instance, appear to bring. They bring a humanity that we should measure ourselves against and a kindness that we should try to emulate. Most of all, they remind us of what being human is.

In the short period of time that I spent outside with Eilish, I could see that in abundance. In the discussions that followed, I could see from the adults who support and surround The Yard, and from the families, the real power that can come if we open up our understanding of our young people and our disabled young people. We can fight the statistic that 33 per cent of Scottish families have an extra disability that leads to costs of £300 per month, and we can fight the fact that disabled people have, at 20 per cent, higher levels of child material deprivation compared with levels in other households, where the figure can be as low as 8 per cent.

In our fight against poverty and to make Scotland the best place for young people to grow up in, we must never forget the experience that our disabled young people have in growing up. After all, that is what we will be measured by.

Thank you, Mr Whitfield. If any evidence of chalk, paint or wet spaghetti is found in the chamber, we will know who to come to.


Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I, too, am pleased to speak in this members’ business debate and to give my support to the campaign, which recognises the importance of funding for disabled children in Scotland. I thank Claire Baker for lodging the motion, and I welcome the families to the public gallery.

As others have done, I pay tribute to The Yard for the wonderful work that it does to support children with disabilities and their families. As the briefing says, it has always been

“a place of pure joy”

for anyone who has ever visited. Since my election, I have had the pleasure of visiting The Yard on several occasions. I think that the first time that I visited, within minutes, I was dressed as a wizard and being pushed around in a tricycle or race car. It was a fantastic visit, and it gave me a sense of the value that The Yard brings not just to children but to their whole family and support network. It is important to recognise that in the debate today.

Anyone who has ever used The Yard will know that it is a very special place, as many families have told me. However, it is also a lifeline, with a varied programme of drop-ins, respite sessions, transition youth clubs, early years sessions, specialist sessions with schools, family play sessions and inclusive play and disability training. It also provides parents with an opportunity to have conversations with other parents about the daily struggles that they are facing. It is really important for any family to be able to have that space to have those conversations.

Improving support for disabled children across Scotland and providing support for families is important, and I think that ministers and members across parties all recognise that. Investing in charities such as The Yard can help families and children and can contribute to reducing some of the financial burden that sometimes disadvantages those families. In 2022, the Scottish Government decided to roll forward the children, young people and families early interventions fund grant, and that had major implications for charities such as The Yard, which were struggling to meet demand. As Claire Baker has already outlined, in the seven years since funding was delivered, the Scottish Government’s contribution to each family has reduced in real terms by 76 per cent. That is a remarkable statistic: it has gone from £163 per family in 2016 to just £39 per family now. I think that all of us, across the parties, understand the need to recognise that, and I think that it is important that ministers are aware of it. It is an astonishing fall in funding that will clearly present challenges in the future.

We know that The Yard wants to expand into the west of Scotland, and I think that we would all want to support that work. With additional funding, those ambitions can be realised, and that will represent value for all of us.

As Ben Macpherson said, charities such as The Yard are invaluable, but they do not come free, and we cannot take for granted those organisations or the facilities and services that they provide. Most of us in the chamber will have a friend or family member with a disabled child, and it is important that we recognise the need for bespoke funding for those services in Scotland.

I will conclude, as others have, by thanking Eilish Cowan for her campaigning. I also thank her whole family and all the families who use the yard for their tremendous campaign to date. I hope that today’s debate presents an opportunity for ministers to think again and look to provide a better deal. The Yard has received just £90,000 since 2016, and that has been enough to support 550 children. However, seven years on, the charity’s reach has grown fourfold, delivering family support to more than 2,300 children in its three centres in the east of Scotland. Demand for a wide range of services is growing, and the Scottish Government needs to recognise that and rethink its position. The Yard will not be able to continue to meet demand if it does not receive that additional funding, so I sincerely hope that the minister has heard the case this evening for providing a better funding deal for The Yard and that she will undertake a review urgently to improve the funding model and make sure that The Yard can continue to go from strength to strength.


Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Claire Baker for bringing this important and urgent question to Parliament and join her in welcoming to the public gallery families and workers from The Yard who so warmly welcomed me when I first visited them four years ago.

Their latest struggle for a fair funding settlement is a campaign that is driven not only by persuasive argument but by moral force and they have waged it both outside and inside this Parliament. Although there will be no vote tonight, I hope that everyone is clear that we are not merely a debating society: we are a Parliament with powers and we must be prepared to use those powers, including the budgetary powers that we possess, to speak a language of priorities, to address this injustice and to build a more equal, civilised and caring society as well. We will not be judged by our votes this evening, but—make no mistake—we will be judged by our values.

What is happening here is a crime. It is daylight robbery and has happened not only because of bureaucratic inertia, delay and cancellation but because of the deafening silence of political indifference. It is simple: the Government’s funding for The Yard and other early intervention organisations has been cut. Seven years ago, The Yard secured £90,000 from the Scottish Government’s children, young people and families early intervention fund. It then provided services for 550 children with disabilities, working out at a cost of £163 per family. Its grant is still stuck at £90,000 today, but it is now working across three sites and with 2,300 children with disabilities. By my calculations, that works out at £39 per family, and that is not £39 per week, it is £39 per year, which works out at 75p a week.

It is not by accident but by design that the Scottish Government called the fund an “early intervention” one. All the evidence tells us that the earlier the intervention, the better. It is no good ministers making speeches to party conferences and to this Parliament about being committed to

“getting it right for every child”

or to the “same outcomes ... same opportunities” or to giving

“the best start in life”

if all they have are words and frameworks without the action or funding to back that up.

The children from The Yard who were here lobbying Parliament just last week were three, four and 12 years old. They will not be three, four and 12 years old again. That is why we have to get this right. And we have to get this right now.

The money can be found. I tell you: the working people who produce the wealth of this country—the people I represent—would far rather their hard-earned money was spent on these kids in need than on the asset managers and wealthy bankers who are hoovering up public funds to buy up our land, our peatlands and our forests. The money is there, but it is in the wrong hands.

We are here tonight to stake a claim for equality and for the flowering of the human spirit—in short, to stake a claim for a social revolution. That is why this debate is not the end but just the beginning. We are just starting to set out the changes that we need to bring about the good society that we all must build to secure a better future for all those children and their families who are with us in Parliament tonight and for all of those who are watching on across Scotland and who can wait no more.

I call Natalie Don to respond to the debate.


The Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise (Natalie Don)

I thank members for taking part in the debate. It has been nice to hear about members’ experiences and understanding of the impact that The Yard has had.

I welcome the opportunity to highlight the vital role of organisations such as The Yard and to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to supporting disabled children and their families. I pay particular tribute to Eilish, her dad, Lawrence, and the rest of her family for all their hard work in raising awareness of this important issue. As has already been said, the First Minister will visit The Yard in a couple of weeks, and he is very much looking forward to meeting Eilish and her friends. Of course, I would be delighted to visit, to see at first hand some of the amazing work that is going on.

The Scottish Government highly values our third sector and the contribution that it makes to children, young people and families across Scotland. Our children, young people and families early intervention fund—which I will refer to for the rest of my speech as CYPFEIF, otherwise it will take up most of my time—has been providing core funding to 115 organisations, including The Yard, since 2016, helping thousands of children, young people and families. As members have noted, these are incredibly challenging times, and we recognise the strain on third sector bodies. In recognition of that, in March this year, we sustained our £94,500 annual funding via CYPFEIF for The Yard until March 2025.

The funding contribution to The Yard is in recognition of the excellent work that it is doing and the support that it is providing. It was our aim that the continued provision of CYPFEIF funding would ensure the sustainability of organisations and continued delivery of support to thousands of children, young people and families across Scotland. However, I am aware that The Yard has made calls for an increase in funding to allow it to deliver even more of the valuable services that it already provides. I have heard loud and clear the calls from members in the chamber today.

Members are all aware of the continued pressure on public finances, but I assure the chamber and organisations such as The Yard that we are determined to do everything that we possibly can to support our disabled children, their families and the people and organisations that support them. I reassure Claire Baker and other members that we are in the process of reviewing our approach to third sector funding. In response to Ben Macpherson, I say that the review will keep in mind our commitment to fairer funding principles.

I am committed to equality and improving outcomes for disabled children and young people in Scotland, and to ensuring that all children can participate and achieve their potential. We know that families with a disabled person are more likely to be in poverty and that they can be disproportionately affected by the current cost crisis. We are providing funding to Family Fund, which delivers support and direct grants to families on low incomes who are raising disabled or seriously ill children and young people. Through the Family Fund grant scheme, each family has choice and control over what items they request, based on what they need to improve their quality of life. In 2022-23, we provided £2.974 million of funding, which supported more than 6,000 families.

Our national carers strategy, which was published in December 2022, sets out our cross-Government approach to carers’ financial inclusion. We are currently implementing the strategy to drive forward long-term changes to improve the lives of unpaid carers across Scotland. People who care for a family member with a disability make a vital contribution to Scotland. That is why we have improved support for unpaid carers, including through investing more than £88 million in local carer support through local authority Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 funding and by legislating to establish a right to breaks from caring through the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill to support people to protect their wellbeing and sustain caring relationships.

Despite our fixed budgets and limited powers of devolution, we have also transformed social security provision in Scotland by delivering a system that is based on our principles of dignity, fairness and respect. The launch of the carer support payment, which will replace the carers allowance in Scotland, is the next important milestone in our on-going work to improve support for carers. We have worked extensively with carers and support organisations to design an improved service and a benefit that will work for them. The carer support payment will provide an improved service and information to help carers to find out about and access wider support for themselves and their families. Carers will also continue to benefit from the carers allowance supplement, which will, by the end of this year, have paid carers up to £3,300 on top of the carers allowance since its launch in 2018.

Almost £300 million has been paid to the families of disabled children and young people through the child disability payment. We have heard from families about the important difference that the payment can make by helping with the extra costs of caring for a disabled child. More than 80 per cent of people who responded to the child disability payment survey in 2022 told us that the child disability payment had helped to make a difference to their life.

We can look at other examples, such as childcare for school-age children. Childcare and activities around the school day are highly important. Children can benefit from improved outcomes through opportunities for play and learning, and access to childcare can support parents and carers to work, train or study, or it can provide them with respite. That is why we are committed to designing and building a new system of childcare for school-age children in which care is provided before and after school all year round for the families who need it most.

Miles Briggs

I understand that the minister is outlining a range of policies. Carers centres, which councils are struggling to fund, and places such as The Yard are key in providing holistic support, so have ministers considered what needs to happen to ensure that such services are sustainable into the future and where additional funding for them can be found? That is really important because, when people look for support in accessing the new benefits that the minister has outlined, those conversations often take place in carers centres or places such as The Yard.

I can give you the time back, minister.

Natalie Don

I thank Miles Briggs for his intervention. As I have said, we are reviewing our approach to third sector funding, and we can certainly look into various aspects relating to that.

This year, we are investing £15 million in designing and testing new models of childcare for school-age children that meet the diverse needs of Scotland’s families. We are taking a people-centred, place-based approach to that, which means that we will co-design services with the people who will use them. Through that process, we will utilise existing research and experience from specialist services so that we deliver a childcare offer for school-age children, whatever their needs, that reduces barriers for families and supports positive outcomes.

Play is at the heart of what organisations such as The Yard provide; they give everyone who attends their centres the opportunity to be themselves and, importantly, to have fun. I whole-heartedly agree with Martin Whitfield about the importance of play. In fact, I was at an outdoor nursery setting today, and I had mud all over my skirt because I was running about with the children in the forest. It was such a brilliant start to my day, and it reaffirmed the importance of play. The Scottish Government and organisations such as The Yard understand how important play is for children and young people’s growth, development and wellbeing, which is why we are committed to enshrining in law play as a fundamental children’s right through the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I conclude by reaffirming the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensuring that every child has the nurturing care that they need to get the best start in life. We want to protect parents from stigma and give them the resources and help that they need, where and when they need it, to ensure that children have the responsive care that is required for healthy development. Organisations such as The Yard are providing just that. I am delighted that we are able to continue to support The Yard through CYPFEIF, and I look forward to continuing to work with it. The health and wellbeing of children and young people is a key priority not just for the Scottish Government but for our whole society. We know that parents are the strongest influence on a child’s life and that, by helping parents, carers, families and communities to build better lives for themselves and their children, we can ensure that every child has the best start in life. I again thank Claire Baker for bringing the debate to the chamber.

That concludes the debate, which, I am delighted to see, Eilish appeared to enjoy up in the gallery.

Meeting closed at 17:48.