The infant mortality rate has continued to rise under this Conservative government. Future generations need a Labour government that will invest in their wellbeing from the very beginning.
Data relating to the infant mortality rate from the Office of National Statistics is deeply alarming. It shows that, under this Conservative government, the infant mortality rate has risen for the fourth year in a row. That isn’t something that should be happening in the world’s fifth richest economy.
Where our European counterparts lead, we lag behind: the average infant mortality rate in the UK is 30% higher than that of the rest of the EU. And for the first time we can now see a clear disparity between rates of infant mortality in the most deprived areas of the country and the least deprived areas.
Children born in the most deprived areas in Britain are twice as likely to be born at a low birthweight and three times more likely to experience tooth decay and be overweight or obese compared to their peers who live in the most affluent areas of Britain. Tragically, children born in poor areas are also more likely to die in infancy. The infant mortality rate in the most deprived areas of the country per 1,000 live births was almost twice that of the least deprived in 2017.
Such health inequalities are not new, but they have become the norm under nine years of austerity imposed by the Conservative Government. The government’s failure to tackle these underlying health inequalities and reverse the trend of rising infant mortality is clear to see in the ONS’s most recent data release.
To reverse this trend in infant mortality, we must return to the approach of the last Labour Government, under which the UK became the first EU country to systematically attempt to reduce health inequalities, increase access to healthcare and increase expenditure on public health. Labour has committed to introduce a Future Generations Wellbeing Act to prioritise children’s health and wellbeing as a priority for the next Labour government, because every child deserves a healthy and happy childhood.
The next Labour Government will focus determinedly on improving the health and wellbeing of every child and has committed to adopt a comprehensive, cross-government national strategy to tackle health inequalities – attacking the wider determinants of ill health and putting prevention first. That means investing in early years, reversing the cuts to public health budgets, increasing health visitor numbers and promoting and supporting new mums to breastfeed.
Only a Labour government can help to tackle maternal deprivation and ensure that the fate of children in low income areas is no longer predetermined before they are even born.
James Kelly is editing LabourList while Sienna is away.