The Daily Telegraph bloggers Ed West and Brendan O Neill have both written brilliant pieces about the dangers of statism in recent weeks. I would like to add this insidious example, that I found nestling amongst the pages of the Guardian in which it was claimed that the teenage pregnancy strategy was a ‘triumph’.
I have previously discussed and debunked some of the myths, but a short recap is in order. Teenage pregnancy rates have remained static since the 1970s. Over £280 million has been poured into the teenage pregnancy strategy with the sole aim of reducing teenage pregnancies. Rates have dipped slightly but fallen well short of the stated target of a 50% per cent reduction. When considering any drop in the teenage pregnancy rate, we need to remember that the rates detail a figure per thousand teenage girls. So if there are double the number of teenage girls and double the number of pregnancies, then the rate remains the same. In 1999 around 49,900 girls under the age of 18 fell pregnant.* In 2009, the number had dropped to 45,500. Whilst no-one can dispute the drop, to call the 18% reduction a ‘triumph’ requires a flexible interpretation of the word, particularly when one considers the target of a 50% reduction. They are not even halfway there.
Obviously there has been a limited success in terms of pure pregnancies and thus the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy may tenuously cling onto this reduction, however this does not take into account the STD rate which has shot through the roof. Since 2001 for example, rates of syphilis in the age category 15-19 have gone up by 125%! No teenager should be having to deal with syphilis. What the explosion in teen STDs coupled with the slight decline in teen pregnancy rates indicates is that more teens are having sex using long term hormonal contraception, which means slightly fewer of them are getting pregnant, but the known phenomenon of risk compensation is occurring. Teens are clearly not deterred from indulging in risky sex and thus the problem is far from solved, even if the symptoms are being mildly alleviated.
I am sorry to harp on about this, but the teen sex lobby are relentless in their constant drip-feeding of choice stories and subverted data to the press, keen to distort the figures to suit their narrative and prop up their case for existence. If the figures drop slightly they cry success and demand money to continue their marvellous work, if the figures rise, then more needs to be done and with the axing of the teen pregnancy quango, they feel the need to prick the public consciousness. Particularly when pesky people like me point out a few salient facts on a political website read by influential policy makers. For as long as they cry triumph, I will be looking at the real data behind the headlines.
Returning to the subject of statism, the aspect that really disturbed me about this emotive article (note the carefully chosen working class teenage girl pictured outside a block of council flats, glued to her phone instead of looking at her baby, because obviously poor teenage mums have minimal parenting skills, compared to the middle class Guardian reader) was this:
Young people are so attached to their mobile phones, notes Nursal Livatyali, that it’s as though they’re an extra body part. “We know that anything you send to them through their mobiles will be received.”
That is why in Enfield, north London, where Livatyali is the teenage pregnancy co-ordinator (TPC), young people wanting advice about sex, contraception and relationships can text questions to a free service for an answer within half an hour.
Providing advice on sexual health is key to cutting teenage pregnancy rates, as is giving girls the confidence to insist on contraception and not to feel pressured into sex
Here we have the prime example of the ‘virtuous state’ overriding the functions of the family, by texting answers to teen’s questions about sex direct to their mobile phone and bypassing the parents. Why can’t a teen ask their mum? Or an aunt, older sister, friend etc? The reason is simply because the state does not trust anyone but itself to impart the “right” information. Who needs strong interpersonal relationships when you can just go direct to a state counsellor, a total stranger with whom you can trust all your worries about sex and who will tell you all you need to know as well as counsel you in your relationship worries and empower you to say no?
Who is going to be more effective and influential, the state employee, clinically telling you all about the different methods of hormonal contraceptive methods or your mum, who might actually tell you that if Gavin tries it on you should knee him in the knackers and proceed to give you a lecture on the perils and pitfalls of teen sex and might make sure that you stay in and do your homework instead? The state makes the worrying assumption that the parents will give advice that is either incorrect or unhelpful, whereas all the research indicates that it is strong relationships with parents and influential adult figures that make all the difference in terms of averting teen pregnancies, not a stranger texting reassuring platitudes direct into a mobile phone. Whether the parent may want to give the teenager an earful about not having sex or getting pregnant or takes a more liberal approach of taking the child to the doctors and talking through the options available with them, the point is that this is parental prerogative. This service simply assumes that the parent is unwilling or unable to support their children and gives the children their first taste of state reliance. “Don’t worry if your mum won’t approve, you can always tell us”.
Appropriate contraceptive services should be discussed with a medical practioner, who will be best placed to decide whether an under 16 should be prescribed large doses of a synthetic hormone designed to simulate pregnancy. It is not the job of the state to act as replacement parent, friend and confidante. If the state has a role to play it is that of enabler and facilitator to encourage parents to build up relationships with their children and talk about sex in an open and frank manner, such as they do in the Netherlands. Not supplant this responsibility to a third party contractor, be that Teen Pregnancy Co-ordinators or representatives from ideological lobby groups with a vested financial interest in ensuring that teens are facilitated and encouraged into entering sexual relationships.
There is something more than a little sinister about the state acting as surrogate parent providing relationship advice directly into the mobile phone of a vulnerable teen and tacitly supporting a teen’s sexual relationship without the need for parental involvement or knowledge. It does not engender a sense of parental responsibility, which as the recent riots demonstrated, is sorely lacking in many areas of society. If this service does fall by the wayside it might be no bad thing. Horror of horrors teens might actually be forced to talk to their parents. Is that really such a terrible thing?
* I cannot bear the phrase fell pregnant, it implies a passivity, that pregnancy is something that happens entirely out of the blue, an unforeseen event: “oh look whoops, one minute I was doing the washing up and next, there I was – up the duff!”