This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 9 °C Sunday 26 January, 2020
Advertisement

'Unprecedented' rise in infant mortality in England linked to poverty

Welfare cuts in the last decade have taken their toll on certain communities, new research has found.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/KieferPix

AN “UNPRECEDENTED” RISE in infant mortality in England is linked to poverty, according to new research.

An additional 570 infant deaths, compared to what would have been expected based on historical trends, were recorded in the country from 2014-2017. 

About one-third of those deaths, which related to children under the age of one, were linked to rising poverty.

Rising infant mortality is unusual in high income countries, and international statistics show that infant mortality has continued to decline in most rich countries in recent years.

The results of a new study by researchers from the University of Liverpool, University of Leeds and Newcastle University, which analysed data from 2000-2017, have now been released. 

In their report, published in BMJ Open, the researchers note that infant mortality rates often act as an indicator of the changing overall health of societies, as well as an early warning system for future adverse trends.

The researchers grouped 324 local authorities into five categories (quintiles) based on their level of income deprivation, with Quintile 1 being the most affluent and Quintile 5 the most deprived.

A statistical model was then used to quantify the association between regional changes in child poverty and infant mortality during the same period.

The researchers found that “a sustained and unprecedented rise” in infant mortality in England from 2014-2017 was not experienced evenly across the population.

In the most deprived local authorities, the previously declining trend in infant mortality reversed and mortality rose, leading to an additional 24 infant deaths per 100,000 live births per year, relative to the previous trend.

There was no significant change from the pre-existing trend in the most affluent local authorities. As a result, inequalities in infant mortality increased, with the gap between the most and the least deprived local authority areas widening by 52 deaths per 100,000 births.

An additional 572 deaths

Overall from 2014-2017, there were a total of 572 “excess infant deaths” compared to what would have been expected based on historical trends.

The researchers estimate that each 1% increase in child poverty was significantly associated with an extra 5.8 infant deaths per 100,000 live births.

The findings suggest that about one-third of the increases in infant mortality between 2014 and 2017 may be attributed to rising child poverty, equivalent to an extra 172 infant deaths.

Professor David Taylor-Robinson of the University of Liverpool, the lead author on the research, said the study “provides evidence that the unprecedented rise in infant mortality disproportionately affected the poorest areas of the country, leaving the more affluent areas unaffected”.

“Our analysis also linked the recent increase in infant mortality in England with rising child poverty, suggesting that about a third of the increase in infant mortality from 2014-17 may be attributed to rising child poverty.

These findings are really concerning given that child poverty is rising. It is time for the government to reverse this trend establishing a welfare system that protects children from poverty.

Taylor-Robinson said child poverty has “a myriad of adverse impacts on other aspects of child health that will have repercussions for decades to come”.

“In the context of increasing health inequalities in England, policies that reduce poverty and social inequalities are likely to reduce the occurrence of infant mortality and that of many other adverse child health outcomes,” he added. 

Welfare cuts 

The report notes the impact of “sustained reductions” in welfare benefits in England in the last decade. It states:

Since 2010, there have been sustained reductions in the welfare benefits available to families with children, including the abolition of child benefit and child tax credit for the third child or more; reductions in the value of tax credits and below-inflation up-rating of most working-age benefits; housing benefit reforms including the under occupancy charge (most commonly referred to as ‘bedroom tax’) and introduction of universal credit; and household caps on total benefit receipt (regardless of how many children are in the household).

“These welfare changes have disproportionately affected the most deprived local authorities and regions and have led to a rise in child poverty.”

Dr Paul Norman of the University of Leeds, who also worked on the research, noted that the findings show “an unprecedented rise in the deaths of children under one year of age”.

He said the researchers’ next step is “to examine the gestational age and the number of weeks at which infants die, to learn more about when key interventions may be needed or when they are being missed”.

“This will inform the urgent action needed by national and local governments, and help drive the health and social care policies needed to reduce infant mortality rates,” Norman said. 

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Órla Ryan

Read next:

COMMENTS (8)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel