South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard on free children's beds scheme: 'We can make a difference'

Mayor of South Yorkshire Oliver Coppard tells The Yorkshire Post his Beds for Babies scheme, which was approved earlier this month, is “just the start” of his plans to address health inequalities in the region.
South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver CoppardSouth Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard
South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard

The £2.2m project will see a moses basket, cot, cotbed or toddler bed provided for free to any child under five years of age who needs one in Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley.

“We know that one in nine babies that go home from hospital in Sheffield alone go home without a safe place to sleep,” says the Labour mayor, “they end up sleeping in a bath or a box, a drawer, in a bouncy chair, all of which are terrible for babies. We know that we’re solving that problem.”

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The programme aims to deal with problems caused by child poverty and to reduce pressure on public services, improve childhood development and reduce infant mortality. The Beds for Babies project is believed to be the first project of its kind in England, and as Rotherham Council approved the introduction of its own “baby packs” with essentials for newborns in the authority area in February, South Yorkshire is leading the way.

“This is not the end of our investment in this space,” says Mr Coppard, “it’s just the start.

“It’s a brilliant place to start, right at the start of a child’s life, but we want to do much more. We want to support our families and help people live healthier lives because it’s the right thing to do.

“This is how you make stronger communities and a stronger economy in South Yorkshire.”

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The scheme is the product of multi-partner collaboration with shareholders including Sheffield Hallam University, Save the Children and Baby Basics UK.

So-called “test and learn” pilots will be held in Goldthorpe, Mexborough, Swinton and Gleadless in order to gather evidence in communities and develop best practice for the scheme as more data is gathered and relationships between statutory and non-statutory stakeholders grow.

Asked why the issue is being left to a metro mayor to resolve, Mr Coppard underlines the importance of his role and of devolution more generally.

“I will always step in as mayor where I can to help the communities of South Yorkshire. There’s absolutely no reason why the Government couldn’t step in to help families across South Yorkshire to get everything they need from birth, yet they’ve decided not to take that step.

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“Where the government will not step in, I will step in to help families across South Yorkshire. We don’t have endless funds, but of course we could do more if we had more money, more control and more power and that’s why I say it’s important for us to be ambitious in the health space.

“Greater Manchester has a larger health settlement through the devolution deal that they have, and I’d like to see us getting more money up front to tackle not just the acute problems we face, but the societal problems earlier in the system to solve them before they become problems.

“What we’re showing in South Yorkshire, and what I hope I’m showing as mayor, is through devolution we can move the needle on that dial and we can make a difference.”

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