The good news is that infant mortality in this country is at an all-time low. The bad news is that it is significantly higher than in other European countries – not only the likes of Sweden and Norway, but also France and Germany and even Greece.
Why is this? In a post for Conservative Woman, Jill Kirby reviews the most predictable explanations:
“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…
“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.”
Kirby is not convinced:
“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.”
Indeed, the Mediterranean members of the EU, which were poorer than us in the first place, have experienced austerity on a scale that overshadows anything we’ve been through. And yet Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus all have lower infant mortality rates.
We need to consider other factors such as family structure:
“The United Kingdom has for many years been at the top of the European league tables for family breakdown, divorce and single motherhood…
“The link between child mortality and single motherhood is long established and persistent…
“Predictably, however, none of the ‘experts’ commenting on the latest report has seen fit to mention the delicate topic of family structure.”
Those who’d rather not talk about the issue often look to Scandinavia for an excuse. On the face of it, the family structure in countries like Sweden resembles our own, but with much lower levels of infant mortality. Thus the argument goes that what Britain needs is not a moral crusade, but a Swedish-style welfare state.
Well, sure, pick a few notes off the magic money tree and let’s do it. No doubt we’d also be cool with the enforcement of a Swedish-style equal parenting culture, in which fathers are required to remain closely involved in their children’s lives, whether or not they’re personally inclined to do so. It’s also worth noting that for all the interventions of the Swedish system, family breakdown still has a negative impact on the country’s children.
Family structure isn’t the only issue that gets swept under the carpet. NHS failure and immigration are also relevant to any discussion of infant mortality statistics. But again, these are touchy subjects.
Rather than criticise the NHS itself for any failure it’s much easier to blame the Government for not supplying sufficient resources. Does this excuse stand-up? Jill Kirby doesn’t think so:
“…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.”
As for immigration, the impact is multi-layered – there’s an upside (immigrants account for more than 10% of all NHS staff and more than quarter of doctors), but also a downside:
“We 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.”
Immigration is not a single undifferentiated phenomenon. Seeking to maximise the upside and minimise the downside is hardly unreasonable.
Unfortunately, reasonable debate isn’t always possible in this country. To merely raise certain questions is to invite accusations of bigotry or heartlessness. And yet, when it comes to something as important as infant mortality, there is no excuse for reticence.
Not throwing stones doesn’t mean leaving them unturned.