From the TUC

Getting it wrong on teenage mums

12 Mar 2010, by in Society & Welfare

You can tell the paleolithic right is feeling frisky when the old nonsense about lone parents starts up again. You know, the rants we used to get from Michael Portillo and others about feckless teenage girls getting themselves pregnant (amazing how they manage it by themselves, but there you go).

Of course, its all the fault of our ludicrously generous benefit system. And who wouldn’t get pregnant when there’s Income Support on offer?

There’s a prime example in today’s Metro that manages to draw the wrong conclusions from an opinion poll the Metro itself commissioned.Headlined “Teen mums ‘are milking the system'” the article reports on an “exclusive poll” that asked “What do you think are the reasons for Britain’s high rate of teenage pregnancy?”

Sixty two per cent of the respondents agreed that “the government makes it financially attractive by offering benefits”. The article’s lead paragraph draws the conclusion that this suggests that “Britain’s generous benefit payments are encouraging teenagers to get pregnant.”

Of course, it doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. What it suggests is that a lot of people believe this to be the case – but nothing about whether they are right or not.

Strictly speaking, the result doesn’t even show that most people think the benefits are “generous” – that was inserted by the reporter. In fact, the UK has comparatively low benefits; if benefits were enticing teenagers into motherhood we should expect this to be much more common in Scandinavia or France where the benefits they can expect are more generous. But, as the article itself  notes, “Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in western Europe.”

The only authority the article quotes is the engagingly eccentric Family Education Trust, which comments that “there is no doubt that state support for teenage mothers is exacerbating the problem.”

No doubt? This is the most annoying factor in this story – not just the article in the Metro, but the whole recurring brouhaha. Because actually we have very good evidence on the subject. In 2006, a team at the Institute of Education carried out a systematic review of the evidence and what will actually help prevent unintended teenage pregnancy are programmes for young people that improve their enjoyment of school, raise their expectations and ambitions for the future and prevent unhappy childhoods.

As in so many areas of social policy, poverty and inequality are the key underlying factor. Far from cutting benefits, “policy-makers should also continue to implement wider measures to tackle social disadvantage and poverty among young people as a route to lowering teenage pregnancy rates.”

We can expect to hear a lot more of this over the coming months – whatever the social problem, the answer is going to be to cut benefits. Politicians who want us to recognise them as progressives should make it plain that they will not be swept away by this reactionary flood.

4 Responses to Getting it wrong on teenage mums

  1. Simon
    Mar 18th 2010, 12:16 pm

    What rubbish. The major cause of teenage pregnancy, whether intended or not, is that teenagers no longer have the same degree of control exercised by or for them, while liberal lefties have perversely promoted the rights of every individual come what may, and above the common good. Why are teenage pregnancy rates high? Because they know full well that they will not have to bare the consequences in any meaningful way, while the state and its apologists bend over backwards to provide support, and to promote single parent families as being on a par with say married couples. What used to keep teenage pregnancy low was a combiination of responsibilty, and economic reality. This government has removed both

  2. johninnit

    John Wood
    Mar 18th 2010, 12:53 pm

    Thanks Simon. So would that be why we currently have the lowest rate of teenage pregnancies (conceptions) for 20 years, with a year on year fall since 1998? In fact teenage birthrates are now broadly comparable with the 1950’s, which I doubt you would consider as a decade of hedonism, liberalism and easy credit.

  3. Simon
    Mar 18th 2010, 1:13 pm

    Thanks for the sarcasm, but as I wasn’t even a twinkle in my married mothers eye at the time, I couldn’t comment. As usual with the left you miss or sadly fail to see the point. You can produce statistics to demonstrate all manner of things as you well know, and it really is a complete and utter irrelevance if the rates are comparable to the 1850s or 1950s, and what on earth is the relevance of easy credit? The point is that while there is a moral and economic structure available in society that actively condones, forgives and in many ways promotes the right of the individual without dealing with the issue of personal responsibility, then teenage pregnancy is the inevitable outcome, and particularly so where for many their perception is that this is actually a career step – cutting benefits is an obvious an effective way of bring home some of the realities of life. Now that really would cut teen pregnancy rates.

  4. Nicola Smith

    Nicola Smith
    Mar 23rd 2010, 4:46 pm


    The tone of your comments suggest to me that you seem to want to punish single parents for some form of moral failure. I wonder what responsibilities you think absent fathers have towards their children? And do you think that because their parents are no longer together children should be consigned to a life in poverty? Is it really fair to make a moral judgement about a parent because of their relationship status?

    The idea that lone parents recieve overly generous benefits is simply wrong – benefits in this country are relatively low, and lone parents have a far higher chance of living in poverty than other groups.

    The reality of becoming a lone parent is that far from being a career choice it can put careers on hold, bringing a huge amount of daily responsibility, hard work and self-sacrifice. Bringing up children on your own is very far from an easy ride. As John says, teenage pregnancy rates are going down, but where teenagers are lone parents (and as Kate shows they are the small minority surely they need support and help to build successful lives for themselves and their children, rather than being villified.