The UK’s infant mortality rate is a national scandal – and yet the country shows no sign of caring

In 2008 election Cameron promised that he would make ours the best, the most nurturing and the safest country in the world for children



I know it’s a Bank Holiday and you want to relax with a glass of beer or Pimms. Please forgive this intrusion. You may get angry, feel upset, ashamed, inchoately guilty. I hope you do. 

According to a new report by the esteemed Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, rates of under-five childhood deaths are higher in this country than any other nation in Europe except Malta. In 2012, 3,000 babies under the age of one died here. Here in the UK, not in recession-ravaged Greece or Spain. Older toddlers died of injuries, accidents and serious illnesses such as cancer. (The figures were worse for the US, but that should give us no cheer or comfort.)

But prominent among other causes given by the researchers were deprivation, welfare cuts, health inequalities, low birth weight and parents who smoke (the last obviously not the fault of the state). Nor is parental neglect or cruelty. But the rest expose failures of government and public apathy. Dr Christopher Murray, director of IHME, says they did not expect to find these figures in the UK, which has a relatively good record on public health. 

If 3,000 children had been murdered before they reached their first birthday, or had been sexually abused, or abducted, Britons would be appalled and incensed. But with these deaths, happening silently, mainly in poor and troubled households, few give a damn. 

We get no sharp TV detective coming upon a dead baby in a home without heating; Sunday magazine photographers don’t take pictures of impoverished British infants on the brink of death, and the deeply empathetic BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet isn’t dispatched to report live on these premature fatalities. Pro-lifers want to save foetuses, but seem to have no interest in saving the very young. The campaigners should fight for those born unfortunates as vociferously as they do for the unborn. To seek to control a woman’s body but not to protect helpless, voiceless children and desperate parents – that is perverse.

During the 2008 election Cameron promised that he would make ours the best, the most nurturing and the safest country in the world for children. Four years later, we are here. And the Coalition Government’s policies are pushing the jobless and working poor to ever greater wretchedness.

Last week new rules were imposed which will make job-seekers turn up to job centres every day or take up unpaid community service, at present something imposed on those who have committed non-serious crimes. By the time this Cabinet has finished with its immoral austerity programme, the poor will be worse off than those put into Victorian workhouses.

In those days, though, charities and conscientious writers made the people care by showing them what it was like to live on the streets. Good people today do all they can, but most people are hardened, feeling only contempt for those on benefits and for others who have been thrown on the scrap heaps of modern capitalism.

On Saturday, I was in Leeds watching a May Day march. Barely 200 people turned up. Most who did were obviously from the most dispossessed of communities. Women handed out leaflets against the bedroom tax and other measures. A small brass band played, and a few ageing trade unionists walked behind them, looking resolute. Shoppers shopped and some mocked or swore at the marchers. It was the saddest sight, more a funeral for a collective Britain now dead and gone and not mourned much.

We humans are not born to be hard. Graham Music is a consultant child psychotherapist at the Tavistock and Portman clinics. His new book, The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, establishes that children are instinctively generous and social. They only learn to become selfish and brattish. “We are losing empathy and compassion in dealing with other people in our society,” Music writes. “You live in a dog-eat-dog world and it makes sense to be highly stressed and vigilant to cope with it, but vigilance doesn’t breed kindness.” The UK has become coarse, ultra-competitive and unkind.

The problem is that the best off will not acknowledge these problems and instead blame the worst off for what feels more and more like a profoundly divided and discontented nation. It’s all the fault of them on Benefits Street, all the fault of bloody foreigners. The poor suffer ill-health and die young while the middle and upper classes are haunted by inner demons and anxieties, well concealed but gnawing away. Alcohol and drug abuse is spread through every layer of society.

It is a wonder to me that our people still make claims about being the best in the world. Britain is extraordinary in many ways and I could not live anywhere else. But we know that the inequality gap is widening, that the tax and welfare system are being corrupted for political reasons, that increasing numbers of men from the lower socio-economic classes are committing suicide, that depression and other mental illnesses are reaching epidemic levels and now, that British children are dying in their thousands. You still quiver with patriotism?  Well then all is  truly lost.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester...

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Prime Minister’s Questions: Yah Miliband versus Boo Cameron

John Rentoul
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella  

Zoella is a great role model - she changed my life

Vicky Chandler
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London