On tax cuts and infant mortality

By Bernadette Meaden
October 6, 2019

Yvonne Hope from the Christian charity Barnabas told a meeting at the Conservative Party Conference, “We continue to see a development in poverty which I think my whole team thinks is a throwback to the Victorian era where they have almost created ghettoes of people who are never going to be able to move on.”

Now, it is bad enough to think about this happening to adults, but what is horrifying is the thought that children and babies are caught up in this. What is the effect on infants, who truly are the most vulnerable?

We know the infant mortality rate in England has risen in recent years, which is very unusual in a wealthy country. Indeed, in most other wealthy countries, infant mortality has continued to decline whilst in England it rose. So researchers at the Universities of Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester decided to do some deeper analysis of the statistics from 2000 to 2017. On the day Conservatives in Manchester were being told about the impact of their policies on adults, the academics published their paper: Assessing the impact of rising child poverty on the unprecedented rise in infant mortality in England, 2000–2017: time trend analysis  

Just to be clear, for anyone who isn’t aware, infant mortality refers to the deaths of children under the age of one year. We are talking about babies dying. And what the researchers found should shame the government and be a national scandal, though it has not been headline news in our Brexit-obsessed media.

First the researchers grouped local authorities into quintiles based on their level of income deprivation, then looked at the association between regional changes in child poverty and infant mortality during the same period.

There was no significant change in the most affluent local authorities. But In the most deprived, the declining trend in infant mortality was reversed and mortality rose.

The researchers calculated that from 2014-2017, there were a total of 572 excess infant deaths compared to what would have been expected based on historical trends. Of these excess deaths, they concluded that about a third may be attributed to rising child poverty – equivalent to an extra 172 infant deaths.

The researchers estimate that “each one per cent increase in child poverty was significantly associated with an extra 5.8 infant deaths per 100,000 live births.”

Lead author Professor David Taylor-Robinson said: “This study provides evidence that the unprecedented rise in infant mortality disproportionately affected the poorest areas of the country, leaving the more affluent areas unaffected.

“Our analysis also linked the recent increase in infant mortality in England with rising child poverty, suggesting that about a third of the increase in infant mortality from 2014-17 may be attributed to rising child poverty.

“These findings are really concerning given that child poverty is rising. It is time for the government to reverse this trend, establishing a welfare system that protects children from poverty.”

Just last month Child Poverty Action Group warned of “drastic and growing income shortfalls for working lone parents whether they earn the ‘national living wage’ or have median earnings” as “social security policies have created disproportionately stark losses for these families and left them falling further and further below a living standard that the public considers acceptable.” 

These social security policies and cuts were always justified as being necessary because "we had to get the deficit down" and even former Conservative Rory Stewart, widely regarded as ‘moderate’ continues to argue this. But as Jonathan Portes has tweeted, and demonstrated here “All the money saved on welfare/benefits 2010-15 went to finance tax cuts – a pure transfer from poorer people to the better off.” Redistribution of wealth, Conservative style.

Governments since 2010 have known, because they were repeatedly told, that their policies would cause an increase in child poverty, yet still they persisted. They even went on to deliberately target the children of poor families, with the two child limit. Child Poverty Action Group says that by 2023, 1.8 million children are likely to be affected by this policy. Of these, one million will already be living below the poverty line, and will be pushed further into poverty. How many excess infant deaths will be associated with this?

The government now knows that child poverty is strongly associated with the deaths of babies. With this knowledge, how can they continue to implement policies which will cause it to rise? And how can anyone continue to support a government that does this?


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden 





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