Friday, April 19, 2019

Baby Deaths Rising for the Poor

Newborn baby deaths appear to be rising among the poorest groups in England.

Infant mortality had been stable or dropping for eight of the 10 years from 2007. But in 2015 and 2016, the trend appears to be starting to go the other way. In 2015 there was an increase in the newborn baby death rate for the two groups with the lowest incomes and, in 2016, infant mortality went up in four out of five income groups – all but the most affluent.

Frank Field is concerned that rising infant mortality may be linked to increasing poverty caused by austerity and changes to benefits. “2015 started the cuts in benefits and goodness knows what else,” he said. “So prior to that we had caps and limitations on rises to 1% and so on. Then we got into the serious business from 2015 onwards of actually cutting benefits in money and certainly real terms. Often mortality data are the canary down the mineshaft,” he said. “Those that are fragile are most vulnerable to harshening conditions.”

The data was collected by the Office for National Statistics. It shows that the infant mortality rate has declined markedly since 2007, when it was 6.2 in the lowest income group. By 2014, that was 4.8 per 1,000 (860 deaths). But in 2015, the rate rose to 4.9 (874 deaths) and in 2016, it was 5.1 per 1,000 (913 deaths). A similar pattern is seen in the next to lowest income group, from 3.5 to 3.8 to 4 per 1,000 (612 deaths).
Prof Sir Michael Marmot, director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity in London, and the author of a seminal 2010 study called “Fair Society, Healthy Lives”, said "Inequalities are increasing. Infant mortality is low in all groups – a welcome trend – but the trends are in opposite directions: going down in the higher socioeconomic groups, going up in the lower.”  Marmot pointed to housing costs as well as changes in taxes and benefits as causes of poverty.

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