Britain's wealth gap means 2,000 more children die every year than in Sweden

Social Affairs Correspondent

Thousands of children in Britain are dying prematurely because of a growing gap between rich and poor, according to research.

A wealth gap, combined with a lack of targeted health policies to tackle child mortality, means Britain lags behind its Western European counterparts, a study from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) shows.

Every year, an estimated 2,000 additional children – equivalent to five a day – die in the UK compared to the best performing country, Sweden.

More than 3,000 babies died before age one in 2012, and more than 2,000 children and young people died between the ages of one and 19. Disadvantage was a major factor in preventable deaths, particularly amongst new babies and young people committing suicide.

Withdrawing the welfare spending cap, introducing a national database on child mortality, minimum unit alcohol pricing and 20mph zones in built-up areas could all help reduce Britain’s child mortality rates, the study argues.

Dr Ingrid Wolfe, lead author of the report and child public health expert, said: “Social and economic inequalities are matters of life and death for children. Countries that spend more on social protection have lower child mortality rates. The messages are stark and crucial. Poverty kills children. Equity saves lives. Social protection is life-saving medicine for the population.”

More than half of deaths in childhood occur in the first year of a child’s life and are influenced by premature births and low baby weight. Maternal age, smoking and disadvantaged circumstances are all risk factors in this.

After the age of one, injury is the most frequent cause of death, three quarters of which are in road accidents. Suicide remains a leading cause of death in young people and the number has not declined in 30 years.

Luciana Berger MP, the shadow Public Health Minister, said: “This report reveals that preventable child deaths are more likely to affect the poorest families. That is an appalling fact and a tragedy not befitting a civilised country.

“At present, the Government is heading away from the solutions offered by this report. David Cameron has shelved plans for a minimum alcohol price, reduced the support for stop-smoking services and failed to deliver the new midwives he promised.”

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “As a result of our investment in children we have seen a 23 per cent rise in the number of health visitors and have invested £54 million in mental health support for young people. We are also investing more in training so that GPs have stronger integrated skills to care for children and young people with specialist long term conditions in the community. We recognise that more needs to be done, but it is our ambition to make health inequalities a thing of the past.”   

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