Tuesday, June 15 1999
Blair launches £60m plan to cut teen birthsby Jill Sherman, Whitehall Editor
TONY BLAIR yesterday unveiled a £60 million plan to halve the rate of teenage pregnancies in Britain, including proposals to set up hostels for young mothers.
The Prime Minister said young parenthood leads to "shattered lives and blighted futures" as he confirmed that teenage mothers of 16 to 18 would be refused individual council flats and instead put in supervised hostels.
In Opposition, Labour attacked a similar scheme proposed by the Tories, with John Prescott claiming it would be a return to the workhouse. But yesterday Tessa Jowell, the Public Health Minister, defended the plan, saying girls would be given advice on parenting and finding work and they were "not in any sense meant as institutions of moral correction".
Mr Blair also announced that teenage fathers would have to pay for the upkeep of their children, insisting that fathers as well as mothers should shoulder their responsibilities. All primary schools will be required to provide sex education and contraceptives should be more widely available to the under-16s under the proposals. School nurses will be given a wider role in primary and secondary schools and where necessary will help children under the age of 16 to obtain contraceptives without parents' knowledge.
Family planning clinics will open in the evenings to allow schoolchildren greater access to contraceptives and teenage parents or "peer mentors" will be given "pocket money" to visit schools to talk to young people about the problems ahead.
The measures, outlined in a report from the Government's Social Exclusion Unit, are part of a programme to inform young girls and particularly boys about the consequences of early sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases, and the practical and financial burdens of early parenthood.
The Government is to launch a £15 million publicity campaign with half the funding provided by the private sector plus a £2.8 million telephone line to advise teenagers on sex and relationships. Extra funding will be provided in high teenage pregnancy areas.
The move comes after new figures showed that Britain's spiralling teenage birth rate is now the highest in West Europe, with about 90,000 teenage conceptions every year.
At present primary schools are expected to have a policy on sex education, but many choose not to teach it. Many schools fail to give 10 and 11-year-olds information about periods, even though one in ten girls starts menstruating before leaving primary school.
- Contraceptives: new guidelines will be given to health professionals on prescribing contraceptives to children under 16 without telling their parents. School nurses will be seen as the "gateway" through which youngsters can get advice and help and will be able to arrange for girls under 16 to be given the Pill without parents being told.
- Hostels: teenage mothers of 16 and 17 who are not living with their families will no longer be entitled to independent council homes and will be required to live in hostels with other young mothers. Adults will supervise and give help with parenting skills, shopping, and advice on how to return to school or get a job.
- Teenage fathers: young fathers will be forced to pay for their children as soon as they start a job. The Child Support Agency will, as a priority, ensure that teengage fathers are chased up to pay for the care of babies, to hammer home the financial penalty of young parenthood. Even those without a job will have to pay £5 a week.
- Groups at special risk: parenting and sexual health classes will be made compulsory in all young offender institutions after figures showing that up to 33 per cent of young offenders are teenage fathers.Last night the proposals were broadly welcomed by charities and health organisations. But groups representing one-parent families issued a warning that young mothers in hostels risked being stigmatised and seen as "bad girls". Ann Widdecombe, Shadow Health Secretary, welcomed the hostel plan, but doubted that more sex education would solve the problem. Brook Advisory Centres gave the proposals an enthusiastic welcome.
Teenage Pregnancy - Report from the Social Exclusion Unit (The Publications Centre, PO Box 276, London SW85DT; £15)
Copyright 1999, Times Newspapers Ltd.