Every year more infants are dying within the first year of their life. This is caused by a failing government that refuses to acknowledge that their policies are doing more harm than good. According to the Nuffield Trust and RCPCH, infant mortality has risen each year in the UK from 2014 and Britain now has the fourth highest infant mortality among 15 OECD countries. Infant mortality rates are used – among other indicators – to demonstrate the overall health of societies. This rise would be concerning in any country, let alone a high-income area like the UK.
A recent article, published by academics at the University of Leeds, shows that this unprecedented increase in infant mortality is linked to rising levels of poverty. This has significant implications regarding the failure of our current government’s strategies, and ‘austerity’ politics, that continue to disproportionately affect the poorest areas of the country.
Researchers at Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle universities contributed to the study, examining this rise in infant mortality rates across England and Wales. They found that overall there were 572 more infant deaths than expected when compared to the historical trend. However, it is only families from the most economically deprived groups that make up this excess, whilst affluent families were completely unaffected.
Their study collected data from 324 local authorities and sorted them into five groups based on levels of income deprivation. The gap between the least deprived areas and most deprived was an extra 52 deaths per hundred thousand births. Essentially, infants are more than “twice as likely” to die in England and Wales if they are born into a poor family than a wealthier one
This only further demonstrates the growing economic disparity in the UK. A 2019 study showed that the gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived people is only getting bigger. Women in poor areas saw their life expectancies drop 100 days from 2012 to 2014, and 2015 to 2017. Meanwhile, richer women saw their own grow by 84 days in the same period. Life expectancy and infant mortality are a litmus test for the overall health of societies, and the UK is failing.
Disturbingly, the United Nations recently reported that rising poverty in the UK is a political choice. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, released a damning report on the state of Britain in November 2018. The report stated that ‘austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so. But the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.’ Alston concludes that, especially as the country moves toward Brexit, the Government should implement policies designed to ensure that economic burdens are not shifted towards the most vulnerable in society.
It was expected after this report was released that UK politicians would have to finally act, and acknowledge their ‘systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population.’ However, the government stayed in a steady state of denial, saying that the UK was one of the happiest places in the world, despite overwhelming evidence accusing them of causing the unnecessary suffering of an increasing number of its people.
This research – old and new – explicitly demonstrates that increasing poverty having is having a large impact on child mortality, making it only more and more necessary that the government starts to take notice and protect their children from poverty, through welfare systems and increased policymaking.
Mairéad Zielinski & Loulou Braddick