“There are the poor, the old, and the miserable, who look and feel “half-dead,” as they themselves express it, unless they are “lighted up” every two or three hours with a glass of spirits. Many of these have become so habituated to drink that they care but little for food, and very rarely partake of a substantial meal; a pennyworth of boiled shell-fish, such as whilks or mussels, an oyster or two, or a trotter, or sometimes a fried fish – all of which are borne into into these places by hawkers every hour of the day – maybe taken as fair samples of the food consumed by these regular drinkers.” Illustrated London News, May 6, 1848
Fast forward a hundred plus years and the arguments don’t seem to have changed too much! “If the poor are given money – they just spend it on drink” seems to be message dropping from the wine soaked lips of the “right-thinking” commentators when faced with plans to give pregnant women cash for food.
The government announced yesterday that mothers to be would be eligible for a grant and some nutrition advice. How shocking! To hear the hullabaloo this story created you could be mistaken for thinking that hordes of ladies with bumps would be clogging up the pubs and clubs of Britain, chain smoking, renewing their tattoos and dropping Es until every last penny of the money-pinching taxpayers cash is spent.
Even here, some of our online contributors have felt the need to jump on the “they know not what they do” bandwagon. Already 68 per cent have voted against this proposal in the M.E.N online poll!
But there seem to be a whiff of misogony about these protestations. After all, does anyone ever check that pensioners aren’t having a sneaky extra sherry with the winter fuel payments? Or that child benefit is actually spent on the child? No, so it’s obviously just women who can’t be trusted then.
So before indignant Daily Mailness takes over, just look at the shocking facts surrounding birth weights and health in the deprived areas of our region.
* Some 9.5 per cent of babies born in Manchester in 2005 were classified as ‘low birth weight’, compared to 7.9 per cent in England as a whole.
* A total of 48 children under one died in the city that year – an infant mortality rate of 7.2 per 1,000 births. The national average is 5 per 1,000.
* Manchester also has high levels of teenage pregnancy – 70.2 per 1,000 girls between 15 and 17 conceived in 2005, compared to 41.4 per 1,000 across England. The teen pregnancy rate has risen by 6.3 per cent since 1998. Across the country, it has fallen by 11.1 per cent.
* Fifteen per cent of schoolchildren in Manchester are clinically obese, although the rates vary with deprivation levels. And the proportion of adults getting exercise of ‘moderate intensity’ three or more days a week is 20.8 per cent, which is in line with the national average of 21 per cent.
(Read more on this here) So what would YOU do to address it?
OK, human nature and the cynicism of experience tell us that some women will abuse this grant and spend it on something to alleviate the daily horror or simple drudgery of their days.
But there’s also a chance that some, even if it’s a minority, will see the impending birth and that miracle of recreation to be a turning point in life and receiving this support at such a vital time could be a life-changing experience for them and their unborn child.
Surely, given the scale of the problem, that’s worth a try.