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HomeNewsJill Kirby: Sky high infant mortality. We have to tackle family breakdown

Jill Kirby: Sky high infant mortality. We have to tackle family breakdown


The United Kingdom has for many years been at the top of the European league tables for family breakdown, divorce and single motherhood.

So we should not really be surprised to find that babies and children in the UK are more likely to die before the age of 5 than any almost other country in Europe.

According to a report released this week, infant mortality in Britain is 25 per cent higher than the European average.

The link between child mortality and single motherhood is long established and persistent.

Surely it’s one of the most important reasons why policymakers should be promoting marriage and discouraging women from embarking on parenthood outside of marriage?

Predictably, however, none of the “experts” commenting on the latest report has seen fit to mention the delicate topic of family structure.

For paediatrician Dr Ingrid Wolfe, speaking on behalf of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the culprit is inequality – specifically, benefit cuts implemented by the coalition.

This is patently nonsense – children living in the some of most impoverished countries in Europe are, as the data clearly shows, less likely to die in infancy than in the UK.

The National Children’s Bureau, always ready to attack the government for not spending enough money on benefits, asserts that the coalition’s welfare cap is causing baby deaths.

Why is this charity, supposedly dedicated to children’s interests, so reluctant to talk about the impact of single motherhood on children’s life chances?

ONS data makes it quite clear: death rates for children born to single mothers are 50 per cent higher than to parents who are married and living together.

Of course family structure is not the only ingredient in the lethal cocktail that is killing British children.

Our beloved NHS, allegedly the envy of the world, is failing in one of its most basic tasks: to support women in pregnancy and provide enough midwives and maternity wards to deliver babies safely.

Last month the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians, Dr David Richmond, expressed concern that poor maternity care is leading to high rates of stillbirth and baby deaths, too many of which are, in his view, avoidable and unnecessary.

A shortage of midwives, restrictions on doctors’ working hours and lack of weekend cover are all identified as factors in this tragic state of affairs.

But it’s no good blaming lack of funds: back in 2008, at the end of a decade in which Labour doubled spending on the NHS, a shocking report revealed the appalling state of the UK’s maternity services, with women giving birth in third-world conditions.

Money is not the answer. If we want to stop babies dying needlessly, we need to change our priorities.

We also need to acknowledge that the uncontrolled immigration of the Labour years has had a huge impact on birth rates and that open borders are incompatible with a health service free to all.

Most importantly, however, policy makers and campaigners must start talking more honestly about the risks posed to children of being born to a lone mother, rather than pretending it’s an equally valid form of family life.

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Jill Kirby
Jill Kirby
Jill Kirby is a freelance writer, commentator and policy analyst specialising in social policy

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