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

 

Share

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

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk