UK Family Law Reform

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Affluent boroughs show fastest rise in teenage pregnancy

By Jill Sherman and Rosemary Bennett

12th September 2006

SHIRE authorities and London suburbs top the league table for areas where teenage pregnancies are increasing fastest, according to government figures. Teenage pregnancy hotspots are to be targeted by ministers as part of wideranging measures to tackle social exclusion announced yesterday.

But while socially deprived areas still record some of the highest rates in England, the councils showing the biggest increases in conception rates in girls under 18 are outer London boroughs, and more affluent areas such as Windsor, Torbay and Oxfordshire.

Teenage conception rates have been dropping overall, but the latest tables show that since 1984 rates have risen by 42.7 per cent in Barnet, 31.5 per cent in Barking and Dagenham, 25 per cent in Redbridge and 24 per cent in Harrow.

In Windsor and Maidenhead they have risen by 16.9 per cent and in Oxfordshire by 9.3 per cent. However, teenage pregnancy rates have fallen in inner-city areas such as Tower Hamlets, by 25.3 per cent, and Slough, Berkshire, by 26.9 per cent.

Beverley Hughes, the Minister for Children, is to call in the 21 councils with the highest or fastest-increasing rates of teenage pregnancies to draw up urgent action plans across health and social services. The worst offenders will have to submit quarterly updates of progress towards set targets.

Speaking at the launch of the Government’s social exclusion programme, Ms Hughes underlined the huge variation in performance. “Some areas are doing very, very well. We know that it is neither inevitable or acceptable that other areas perform badly. So we will make sure that all hotspots are identified and there is a much more focused approach, both on vulnerable neighbourhoods and vulnerable groups of people.”

But she told The Times that there was no obvious pattern to why some councils were showing big increases. In some districts such as Barking and Dagenham, with a high proportion of different cultures, families are larger and teenage pregnancies more likely, but this was not the case in all the areas showing big rises, she said.

The 21 troublespots to be identified today show that the highest rates in England are in Lambeth, London, with 84 conceptions per 1,000 girls aged between 15 and 17. Other areas with high rates include Blackpool, Haringey, Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle upon Tyne and Manchester.

Today’s document on teenage pregnancy will also show that young people overwhelmingly want to get information about sex and contraception at home, not just from an embarrassed teacher. It also cites evidence that countries with a more open attitude to discussing sex, such as Holland, have some of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy.

Measures announced by Hilary Armstrong, the Cabinet Office Minister, were new proposals to share data on vulnerable groups between different agencies. A new strategy to be unveiled by the Department for Constitutional Affairs tomorrow will give approval to agencies swapping information between health, social services and housing agencies about individuals.

But ministers made clear that there should also be protection in some specific areas for those who did not wish data to be released. Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, announced ten parenting support projects from pre-birth to age 2, aimed at identifying children most at risk of poverty, addiction, underachievement and crime. Health visitors and midwives will be given extra training and be expected to intervene more frequently.

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