A £280 million Government plan to slash the number of teenage pregnancies is set to be a spectacular failure, according to official statistics released yesterday.
Although the rate has dipped, it is falling woefully short of the Government’s stated target, and critics have called the Government’s plan a “disaster”.
In response, ministers have promised to ‘refresh’ their policies, but many will see it as ploughing ahead with the same failed strategies.
The aim was to cut the teenage pregnancy rate by 50 per cent in the years between 1998 and 2010.
The Government relied on strategies of pushing sex education and contraception to teenagers.
But the pregnancy rate only dropped by 13.3 per cent over the ten years from 1998 to 2008 – and the real number of teenage conceptions may be masked by the easy availability of the morning-after pill.
Now the Government has promised a ‘new’ plan, Teenage Pregnancy Strategy: Beyond 2010, which involves piloting one-on-one sexual health and contraception consultations.
The Government also hopes its controversial proposal to make sex education compulsory for all primary and secondary schools will help.
However, critics have blasted the approach.
Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: “With all its emphasis on sex education and handing out contraceptives to schoolchildren under the age of consent, it is giving them the green light to experiment sexually”.
But Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, defended the Government’s record on teenage pregnancies saying: “It was a really ambitious target – it was 50 per cent fall.
“I think it was right to set an ambitious target and it is going to be really hard to make that amount of fall.”
The new figures reveal that the 2008 teenage pregnancy rate for under-18s resident in England was 40.4 per 1,000 girls, representing only a slight decrease from the Government’s 1998 baseline figure of 46.6.
The teenage pregnancy figures for 2010 are unlikely to be published until 2012.
Last year a university professor warned a gathering of parliamentarians and political officials that the Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy had been “absolutely disastrous”.
David Paton, Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School, pointed to statistical evidence showing that since the strategy began diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections have increased, while the rate of decline in pregnancy rates has slowed.