Today marks the introduction of the new health in pregnancy grant. This is a new universal benefit to support pregnant women, with a £190 grant available for women after the 25th week of pregnancy. 630,000 women a year will be eligible for this. (Should I declare a small interest since Mrs K is currently pregnant?).
This was introduced following evidence put forward by the Fabian Society Life Chances Commission and in our follow-up report Born Unequal by Louise Bamfield, and we worked with the premature baby charity Bliss and the Barrow Cadbury Trust to raise these issues.
The Fabian reports presented detailed evidence on the causes and consequences of low birth-weight, showing that a range of specific interventions to reduce the likelihood of babies being born at under five and a half pounds in weight, which is strongly associated with a range of health complications and developmental problems in infancy, childhood and in later life. Helen Goodman MP offered an overview of the evidence speaking at one of our Fabian seminars on these issues.
And the stark class divide in infant mortality rates. The Fabian Commission reported that, in 2002, infant mortality was four deaths per 1000 live births in social class I (managerial and professional), 5.4 in social class III (manual), 6.2 in social class IV and 8.1 in social class V. Stark inequalities in death chances must be an important area of concern for anybody interested in life chances or equal opportunity.
The Fabian report set out a wide range of evidence and proposals, several of which have influenced the government's health inequalities strategy. These included access to maternity care services, preventive strategies including an expanded role for school nurses, and evidence from case studies on how to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancies and reduce the risks of low birth-weight babies for older mothers, and to reduce smoking in pregnancy.
It would be a lazy caricature to suggest that either our recommendations or the governments agenda simply involves throwing money at the problem. But we did find a strong case that increased financial support would help with nutrition in pregnancy. There have been good academic studies debunking the stereotype that poorer parents will waste extra money on booze and fags.
So three cheers for this advance for Fabian gradualism - though we are very happy to defend the idea of extra support in pregnancy against the anti-state, anti-spending brigage too.