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HomeLaura PerrinsChildren matter – it’s sad that it even has to be said

Children matter – it’s sad that it even has to be said


I HAVE a question for you. Would you rather live in a society with average growth but a healthy number of children, or in a society with lots and lots of growth, wealth, money and stuff and lots of foreign workers, but a dwindling number of children? 

As you know, the fertility rate across the West is dwindling: it continues to fall in the UK and the US to new lows. This will impact on future growth, pensions and our life as we know it. In 2020 the UK’s birth rate fell to 1.58 children per woman, the lowest since 2002.*

But don’t worry – James Kirkup of the Times has a solution – and it’s more foreign workers. Hurray! 

Now I’m not saying foreign workers are all bad but I take issue with Kirkup when he seems to believe that foreign workers, who are by definition adults, can replace children. It’s all the same – a sort of pick and mix. 

Kirkup gave us this rather starting choice a couple of weeks ago: ‘On immigration, Britain’s economy, supporting an ageing population, is only going to need more labour.’ He continued: ‘Demographic and economic reality means the choice here for Tories will be stark. Embrace the case for a more liberal, growth-boosting immigration policy, as Canadian Conservatives did after their 1993 annihilation. Or retreat into the electoral ghetto of Orban-style nationalism, exhorting British women to breed for the motherland.’ 

That’s it, that’s your choice. It seems having any kind of family-friendly policy makes you a fascist. I don’t think our only choice is to embrace even more immigration or tell women to breed for the motherland. The UK could just be a little bit more like Ireland (which still has universal child benefit), or most European countries and have a child tax allowance, or even fund childcare adequately, not my favourite but the only pro-family policy the feminists can get on board with. 

The UK could stop being a country that is positively hostile to family formation. We could build more houses. These policies are pretty popular across the political spectrum. Last time I checked building houses that can actually house families is not solely the preserve of the fascists. 

But is not the false choice that made this particular article unhinged. It is the idea, the belief, that a future with fewer and fewer children will be fine. It is the premise that a society with empty playgrounds, shuttered schools, closed toy shops will be the same as we have now. The truth is that a society where there are more and more single people, more and more childless couples and fewer and fewer children will not be a nice one. 

That’s even if we solve the growth problem. That’s even if we steal grown-up children from other countries to keep the economy going. What I’m trying to say is, and it seems so obvious, is that adults, workers (foreign or otherwise), are not the same as children. The problem with a society with fewer children is that there will be fewer children. 

Adults are not an adequate replacement for children because children matter. Children are valuable in and of themselves, not because they will grow up and become workers and taxpayers, but because of what they bring to their parents, extended families, friends and communities when they are children, as children. In a normal, healthy, sane society this does not need to be explained. 

I have never been to Japan, but I doubt it is a fun place to be now that the adult population dominates society and there are so few children. The Children of Men hellscape might be some way off, but a country with fewer and fewer children is not going to be a nice one. It is not going to be a fun one. It is not going to have any new ideas. 

The reality is, a future without children will be grim. It will be lonely and selfish and serious and very, very dull. A future where fewer adults are willing to raise a family, who are unwilling to spend the time and effort it takes to nurture a child, is a future I could do without, thanks very much. You can have all the foreign workers you like (who by the way will grow old and need to be supported themselves, by more foreign workers I assume) but it still won’t save you. 

Nobody ever said, Congratulations, it’s a foreign worker! Grandparents don’t tend to say, I can’t wait for my foreign workers to open their Christmas presents on Christmas Day. No father dreams that one day he will walk his foreign worker up the aisle. A future without children is a future without families. There’s your dystopia right there. 

We should reject this false choice of open borders v baby-friendly policies. Children matter. It’s sad that it even has to be said. 

*In 2021, 28.8 per cent of live births were to non-UK-born women;. The total fertility rate (TFR) for UK-born women was 1.54 children each; the TFR for non-UK-born women was 2.03 children. 

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