Worth £280 million of taxpayers’ money?

Just to recap, despite the introduction of compulsory sex education onto the National Curriculum by the Tories in 1993, followed by the establishment of the Teenage Pregnancy Unit by the Labour government in 1999 at a cost of £280 million, pregnancy rates have remained unchanged since the 1970s. The stated aims were to reduce rates by 15% in 2005 and by 50% in 2010.

Let’s examine precisely how close they got to achieving these targets shall we? In 1999 there were 49,900 conceptions by the under 18s. (numbers have been rounded to the nearest hundred and include both cohorts 13-15 and 15-17). In 2005, the figure was 50,200. Half way into the 10 year strategy, instead of the 15% decrease hoped for, there was in fact a slight rise of 0.6%. Ed Balls panicked and announced another £20.6 million to go into the program in February 2009.

In 2009, the latest full year figures available, teen conceptions numbered 45,500. Marvellous, a decrease at last, of 8.8% since 1999. Well short of the 15% target which was supposed to have been achieved 5 years previously with the desired 50% reduction seeming little more than a pipe-dream.

So, how are we doing now? Here’s a chart showing quarterly data from the last year, which includes the most up-to-date data which is available from March 2010.

It’s looking pretty static. No major changes, the extra £20.5 million given by Ed Balls is yet to have an impact. Both age cohorts experienced a slight rise in conceptions between March and June which over the course of the year gradually dropped to a lower rate, rose again and ended up close to where they started.

Interestingly the abortion rate in both age cohorts rose.

The abortion rate rose from 59% to 62% in under 16s and from 49% to 50.4% in under 18s, over the course of 2009.

Around 96% of abortions are carried out on the NHS. So, if we take 96% of 28,465, the total number of teen abortions carried out between March 2009 and March 2010, and multiply that figure by £500, the cost of the cheapest abortion procedure carried out by BPAS and Marie Stopes (the NHS refers/funds 91% of their abortions) that comes to a conservative total of £13.6 million.

So in 2009 we have an extra £20.5 million being spent to combat teenage pregnancy, on top of the £13.6 million being spent to carry out abortions on those for whom the strategy failed.

There are those who might argue that the £13.6 million is money well spent if it prevents welfare costs, which is a horribly cynical opinion all things considered, but nonetheless a perfectly valid position. However given that pregnancy is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, an entirely preventable condition, particularly amongst teenagers, then it could be argued that the £13.6 million is money that can ill afford to be spent, at a time of ever-shrinking resources, especially as the problem could be combated by a simple change in attitudes and behaviour.

Of course Marie Stopes and BPAS will be pushing for yet more access to contraception to teenagers at an increasingly younger age. Contraception has a notoriously high failure rate, it is estimated that around 50% of live births are unplanned, so it stands to reason that more teens being taught that sex can be ‘safe’ will result in more pregnancies and more abortions. Then that charitable organisation Marie Stopes, founded upon the principles of the wonderful lady who wrote letters of admiration to Hitler and who disinherited her son for the heinous crime of marrying a woman who wore glasses, will have more money to develop new business markets charitable ventures in developing countries. All funded by the UK taxpayer.

It’s a strategy that on the whole seems to be working. Have a little look at the teen conception rates resulting in abortion since 1990.

It’s fairly obvious which way the trend is going. It’s hardly surprising that the likes of BPAS are taking every single opportunity to fight to make abortion even easier to access, such as their campaign in the High Court earlier this year, to allow the abortion pill to be taken at home without medical supervision as well as attempts to change the law which currently requires the signature of two doctors, recognising that what was once safeguard against exploitation and a recognition of the seriousness of the procedure, has been reduced to nothing more than a rubber-stamping exercise.

Here are a few other charts which more than adequately illustrate the point.

No wonder those in the copulationary sex education business are laughing all the way to the bank. Money to promote their product and money to pay for their product. Every year over 60% of teens under 16 and over 50% of teens under 18 will seek an abortion. Kerching kerching kerching.

Meanwhile at the other end of the fertility scale, NICE is recommending that infertile couples should be allowed three cycles of IVF on the NHS, each cycle costing approximately £2,000. The biggest cause of infertility in the UK is women leaving it too late before starting a family. The average age of the first time mother in the UK has risen to 30. By the time a woman reaches the age of 35, her fertility will be 50% less than it was at the age of 25. At 40, it will be halved again. Most NHS trusts will not accept a patient for IVF until she is at least 35, when her chances of conceiving are between 17 and 25%.

So on the one hand we are spending millions of pounds assisting teenagers to interrupt their fertility at the moment it shows signs of commencement, whilst on the other, spending millions to deal with the aftermath. Absolute madness.

I am anticipating the inevitable howls of ideology and wishing to impose my morality on other people, by suggesting that different strategies could be employed to reduce these unacceptably high numbers of teen pregnancy and abortion. Of course the idea that teenagers should abstain from sex is no more ideological than the idea that they should feel free to have sex with whomsoever they choose, at whatever age they choose and as frequently as they choose, just so long as they behave in a “responsible and safe” fashion. Indeed the idea that sex can be risk-free and harmless so long as contraception is used is nothing more than wishful thinking with downright dangerous consequences. It is obvious which ideology has the greatest impact physically, emotionally and financially.

Don’t be fooled

I am in the process of writing a comprehensive post on strategies to combat teenage pregnancy, as a result of which I’ve been thoroughly engrossed in data from the Office of National Statistics. Of particular interest was the teenage pregnancy rates over the last quarter of a century. Both previous administrations promised to halve the unacceptably high levels of teenage pregnancy; the Labour government put an extra £280 million over 10 years into the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, which involved making the morning after pill, condoms and sex education more easily available. The aim was to cut numbers by 15% by 2005 and by 50% by 2010. The Tories don’t get off scott free here either, they promised to halve the numbers when they were in power in the 90s and it was with this aim that compulsory sex education was put onto the National Curriculum in 1993.

Professor David Paton of Nottingham University is widely regarded as the expert in the economics of teen pregnancies. Whilst looking at some of his research, I noted that he stated that the levels of teenage pregnancy had remained static since the 70s. I was slightly sceptical of this claim, given that every year the various sexual health charities seem to laud the ever decreasing rates of teenage pregnancy and claim that it is proof of their “evidence-based” approach. Give children plenty of access to sex education, contraception and abortion and the rates will fall. That said, organisations such as Brook, who incidentally have a contract with the NHS and are paid to supply free contraceptives and contraceptive advice, will of course have a vested interest in pushing this line.

The latest statistics from the ONS website look encouraging. The provisional 2009 under-18 conception rate for England was 38.2 per 1000 girls aged 15-17, a decrease of 5.7% from the 2008 rate and the lowest rate for nearly 30 years. Since 1998, the under-18 conception rate has fallen by 18.1%. Wow, fantastic, our strategy is working say Brook, BPAS, Marie Stopes et al. The teenage pregnancy figures are falling, and yet you’ve got rid of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory group in the bonfire of the quangos. Oh no, we’ve done so well and now you are getting rid of us, when in fact we need MORE funding to continue our good work further.

Actually this rate of conceptions for the under 18s is misleading; it only includes the age group 15-17, the age bracket of 13-15 having been split out and dealt with separately, thus giving a skewed picture. The provisional 2009 under-16 conception rate for England was 7.5 per 1000 – a decrease of 4% from the 2008 rate, and representing an overall reduction of 15% from the 1998 rate of 8.8. per 1000. It doesn’t need me to point out that a year on year decrease of 4% is risible, the rate decreasing from 7.8 to 7.5 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, although any decrease is good news.

But all in all, according to the ONS figures the teen pregnancy rates have been going down since 1998 which goes to show that “evidence-based” policy works and we need to have more sex education, more contraception and more abortion. Right? (Incidentally the numbers of abortions being carried on the under 16s and under 18s has increased by over 10% in each category over the past ten years, which does not correlate to the decrease in conception rates. Slightly fewer girls may be conceiving however considerably more of them are choosing to abort the pregnancy. Abortions have risen by a third since 1997).

Before we all throw our spare pennies into the nearest Marie Stopes collecting tin and write letters of support to Dr Petra, it’s worth looking at the 1998 figures in further detail, given that they are always used as a benchmark, both by the previous government and by the sexual health charities. The 1998 figures are unusually high for two reasons, firstly following a scare about third generation contraceptive pills, which suggested that users might have an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis. BPAS estimated that this scare accounted for an extra 29,291 abortions. The other reason that the figures show a slight spike is due to a change in methodology. The ONS implemented a new algorithm in 1999 which caused a slight decrease in the previous figures. In any event the rates of under 16s conceptions were higher in 2007, than they were in 1999.

If the answer is as simple as more education and more access to contraception and abortion, then surely we should see a marked decrease in the levels of teenage pregnancies at least since 1993 when this was put on the National Curriculum and even more since 1998 when Labour pumped £280 million into their Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.

Here’s a chart showing the rate of conceptions for all under 18s, since 1976. There has not been much change, levels are currently slightly above those in the seventies when contraception was not taught about in schools, access to clinics was more difficult, under 16s could not get advice without their parents’ consent and there were less methods available than there are today, the morning-after pill only coming into use in the mid-nineties.

£280 million well spent? Or throwing good money after bad? The decision to invite LIFE to sit on the new sexual health advisory panel is not such a bad idea after all, particularly when LIFE’s expressed aim is to reduce the amount of teenage pregnancy and abortion. If we are talking about that holy cow “evidence-based” policy, it seems like the totem of more contraceptive education and services is nothing more than self-serving ideology. And if more evidence were required, it was reported this week that a scheme providing free morning after pills for under 16s in Wales has had little impact.

Time to go back to the drawing board.