Infant motality rates in the UK have stagnated and in some deprived areas in England it is actually getting worse, with new research warning that rising poverty levels and cuts to social security benefits may be exacerbating the problem.
The MIrror reports that 572 more babies than expected have died before reaching their first birthday in just three years, with 200 of these directly linked to poverty.
The number of children living below the breadline (4.1 million) is continuing to grow, with up to three in four of these coming from working families, and is broadly expected to reach 5.2 million within the next few years.
More children than ever are being fed by food banks. The Trussell Trust estimates that 577,618 children were fed by its network of food banks between April 2018 to March 2019 – an 18% increase on the previous year.
The Government has been warned that without urgent changes to health and welfare policies, even more families will be forced to endure the torment of losing an infant.
Child health expert Dr Ingrid Wolfe, of the Faculty of Public Health, told the UK Government that infant mortality rates in England have risen for “three years in a row”, bucking the trend in most other countries where it is actually falling.
Dr Wolfe said: “Infant mortality is rising, and it’s been rising for three years in a row. And that’s an extremely bad sign for how this country is doing.
“Is poverty the cause? It’s certainly what lies behind the direct causes.
“Poor nutrition, poor quality housing, maternal ill health, excessive family stress and struggle living with the many challenges of not having enough resources to manage.
“All these factors add up to more vulnerability. And then it’s easier for illness to take hold, and sometimes to take over.”
He added that “poor families will inevitably struggle more than rich ones” because they are likely to have greater health and care needs.
A report published yesterday (5 March) found that although overall mortality rates are slowly declining, improvements are stalling in some age groups.
The ‘State of Child Health 2020’ report highlights how “infant mortality rate is an important marker of the overall health of a society”, and warns that “rises in infant mortality among high-income countries is extremely unusual, and should be a cause for concern.”
It adds: “Infant mortality trends also show widening health inequalities, since 2010 there has been a rise in rates for the poorest children, compared to falling rates for more advantaged infants.”
The report calls on the UK Government to do more to tackle child poverty and inequality, as well as calling for improvements to maternity and neonatal services.
It also welcomes the Scottish Government’s public health campaign informing pregnant women on how to reduce the risk of stillbirths, and calls for the campaign to be rolled-out nationally.