WHILE researching this article, I googled the story in The Sun which has offended so many people, the one with the headline “SNP baby box goes up in FLAMES”. I wanted to see the shark-jumping tabloid psychosis for myself.

But when I clicked on the link I was taken to an error page: “WHOOPS! We can’t seem to find what you’re looking for.” Below that, a picture of an unwanted ice cream cone splattered on the ground. Had The Sun come to its senses, and realised that its article had caused a dangerous and unnecessary panic about very little, like so many scare stories before it? Was the ice cream cone a metaphor for the failure of their alarmist news? Or had militant cybernats broken in to the servers in a desperate attempt to keep the public in the dark? Perhaps we’ll never know the truth.

READ MORE: Twitter users respond to the Scottish Sun setting a baby box on fire

However, I do know one thing. Safety standards aren’t the issue here. I don’t want to assume blanket bad faith, but it seems unlikely that The Sun has morphed into Ralph Nader overnight. Indeed, they characteristically greet all efforts at health and safety legislation with jeers about the nanny state and the Brussels bureaucracy. If the baby box presents hazards, the design flaws must be addressed, but nobody is seriously debating these are serious issues, least of all The Sun.

Instead, this is a proxy war about universal benefits. The baby box was the SNP’s largely symbolic nod to the Finnish welfare system. In essence, it’s a gesture that says that all babies, rich and poor, are born equal, a seemingly bland notion that some people persist in finding offensive.

There are reasonable grounds for criticising the claims the Scottish Government has made for this policy. Arguably the baby box was oversold. A little bit of backtracking ensued, as Finnish officials made clear that the box alone did not reduce infant mortality, unless accompanied by a far broader set of health policies.

READ MORE: Sorry Scotland, you’re not allowed anything nice like baby boxes

Maybe this was a given, but this being politics elaborate claims were made to sell a relatively cheap gesture policy as some kind of revolution.

Nonetheless, if you’ll forgive me, we’re in danger of throwing the baby out with the flammable box. Benefits that only target the poor tend to become stigmatised as such, largely thanks to scaremongering tabloid journalists.

That’s why it’s right to provide free public goods that everyone can use, to make it easier for poor families to use them without being singled out.

There’s an underlying nastiness to The Sun narrative, as if they’re hoping to establish just enough doubt around the baby box to introduce a creeping sensation that using it might endanger your child. Any crumb of doubt and danger, however tiny, could be just enough to put off safety-conscious wealthier parents. Once that starts, the baby box isn’t for everyone anymore, it’s just another poverty benefit for the dirt poor.

I’m not an uncritical supporter of the Nordic model. Even if the baby box gesture was accompanied by an expansive healthcare programme, it’s not enough to eradicate the difference in life chances between rich and poor children, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Disgracefully, we live in a country with a postcode lottery, where people in poverty live, on average, short lives while those in nearby richer estates live well into their 80s and 90s. No universal benefit can solve that. It will take fundamental reforms to our economic system. And that takes a revolution in political attitudes.

However, at the level of gestures, the baby box is a good one. There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment behind it. And progressive people, regardless of party affiliation, must resist attempts at creeping stigmatisation.

Poverty is becoming part of normal experience for families and children. Scottish Government projections suggest that 40% of children might grow up in poor households by 2030. Of course, we’ve got to expend all efforts to reverse that trend, which means more resources for the public sector, which means higher taxes for the middle class and the wealthy, and it’s misleading to pretend otherwise.

However, while there is poverty, we’ve got to protect people who live in it from the culture of fear that surrounds the welfare system. That means we’ve all got to use our welfare system proudly. These are our social rights, the inheritance our grandparents fought for.

Sadly, decades of tabloid spite has built up a culture of fear and shame around it, but the best way to challenge that is to fight for a universal system that we all use.

I’m not a mouthpiece for Nicola Sturgeon’s Government, and I’ve criticised them when necessary. But, on this topic, when faced with an insidious campaign of misinformation, they deserve everyone’s full backing.

The best benefits are those we can all use, and everyone can use the baby box.