I reckon that a majority of young girls assume they will one day become a mother, many years before they begin to consider the financial consequences of raising a family. And while it is socially responsible to weigh up the fiscal costs of rearing your offspring, I firmly believe that the state of our economy is one of the single biggest factors governing whether or not people decide to start or expand their family these days. And that’s simply shameful.
I sat down last week and began to work out where I was being hit by the Supplementary Budget: in addition to the health and income levies, I’m also losing out on my mortgage interest relief, not to mention the changes to the €1,000 a year childcare supplement. But then I’m lucky to have a job at a time when so many others are losing theirs.
Regardless of the economic crises of the day, I suppose women of every generation had to think about the financial consequences of having children (not that our grandmothers had much choice in the matter, contraception being somewhat of a nonentity). But in the past few weeks I’ve heard several women of my own age say they can’t afford to have any more children, even though they’d love to. And these are not ‘Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe’ -type scenarios. One of the women in question has two children another has just one. And by the time this economic despair is over, they’re child-bearing years will most likely be past.
In the same week that our own Government launched such a horrendous monetary assault on young families, an initiative aimed at helping women and their unborn babies came into effect in the UK. The Health In Pregnancy Grant is a £190 one-off grant aimed at helping pregnant women to cope with extra financial burdens as they prepare for the birth of their baby and is available to every woman once she has passed the six month mark. The grant is intended to encourage pregnant women to buy more fruit and vegetables, basically to eat healthier so that their impending arrival gets the best start in life.
In theory, the grant sounds like a wonderful means of supporting women during their pregnancy. Scientists now believe that women on a poor diet during pregnancy are more likely to have low birthweight babies and the nutritional status of the mother during pregnancy can have a profound long-term impact on her unborn baby’s health, altering the baby’s metabolism and permanently increasing the likelihood of a range of problems in adult life such as obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Mind you, I think there’s a fair bit of wishful thinking being done by whoever came up with the initiative. The price of fresh and processed foods being what they are, it is as cost-effective to buy fresh and cook yourself than to opt for the ready-made alternative so if a pregnant woman wants to eat healthily than she will regardless of the grant. Come to think of it, the baby is more or less fully formed by the six month mark so surely it would be better to encourage good diet in the earlier months of pregnancy.
Seeing as the grant is set to cost the UK Government £150million a year, I think some of it would be better spent if it came in to form of free supplements, like folic acid and vitamin D. Taking folic acid during pregnancy reduces the risk of spina bifida in newborns, while low levels of vitamin D, have been linked to a number of problems, from maternal pre-eclampsia to an increased risk of children developing diabetes, multiple sclerosis and possibly even autism.
The Health In Pregnancy grant has generated a fair bit of controversy since it was first mooted and even moreso since the global economic downturn began to take hold in the UK. If the country could afford it (now this is when we really head for Fantasy Land), wouldn’t the payment be a lovely gesture. Just when you’re starting to feel cumbersome and unsightly, when your ankles and calves have merged into cankles and you’re having difficulty reaching your toenails, when you’re making ever-frequent trips to the loo and finding it difficulty to get a good night’s sleep because of your expanding bump, wouldn’t £190 into your pocket be most welcome.
But let’s be honest here. Though the wellbeing of my child was always foremost in my mind throughout my pregnancy, if someone had given me £190, no questions, asked when I was six months gone, I hold my hands up and admit I would have bypassed the fruit and veg aisle and taken up residency next to the boxes of chocolates. And I doubt I’d be alone.