Back in the early 2000’s, the then Labour government decided it had to do something about teenage pregnancy in the UK — and with good reason. For comparison, the rate per thousand of Under-16 pregnancies in the UK was running around 5.5 per thousand compared with (for example) Ireland or the Netherlands, both around one per thousand.
They set themselves a bold target: to reduce the Under-18 conception rate rate by 50% between 2004 and 2010, from around 40 per thousand to around twenty, and they set in place their “Teenage Pregnancy Strategy” (TPS).
And what did they do to achieve this result? They committed £300 million to a widespread campaign in schools, which included confidential health services, sex education, contraception, and the morning-after pill. Yet the 2009 Under-18 rate (the latest for which I have statistics) was almost unchanged, as is the Under-16 rate. There was a very slight reduction from the peak year of 1998, which the government liked to use for comparison, but nowhere near the target 50%. A vast effort and expense, which achieved almost nothing.
Except, it did perhaps achieve one thing. Over the period of the campaign, there was a sharp increase in the level of sexually transmitted diseases amongst teenagers. We can’t prove that this is cause and effect (and to be fair the overall rate had been rising since before the campaign). But the data strongly suggest that the campaign may have been a contributory factor.
Comparative studies were also undertaken on areas offering “emergency birth control” (the morning-after pill) compared to those not offering this service. The result was unequivocal: the service did not cut conception or abortion rates, but it did lead to a 12% differential increase in STDs amongst under-16s.
One other striking statistic. A mother called Mrs. Gillick went to court in 1983 to challenge the legal position that medical practitioners did not need to advise parents when under-16s sought contraceptive advice. The court initially ruled in Mrs. Gallick’s favour — and the under-16 family planning rate rate dropped dramatically from 17 per thousand to 12 . But the government challenged the court decision, and a higher court reversed it in December 1984. Thereafter the rate rapidly returned to the previous level and continued to rise after that. Conclusion: requiring medical practitioners to inform parents would reduce the numbers of teenage girls seeking family planning advice, but would not affect the rate of teenage conception.
How do I know all these things? On March 23rd my good colleague Nirj Deva MEP (London) organised a seminar on “The Ecology of Human Relations”, and the first speaker was professor David Paton, and economist from the Nottingham University Business School, (picture above). As he is the first to admit, he is not a child psychologist nor a social worker, nor is he making a moral case. He doesn’t work with children. He simply studies statistics on his computer. But all his reports are professionally sourced and published.
And the conclusion is clear: the sex education industry is costing a fortune, and arguably doing more harm than good in the process. Prof. Pater showed a one-minute clip from a cartoon sex education film shown to seven-year olds. It illustrated sexual intercourse in highly graphic terms, and was virtually a commercial for sex, with no warnings or qualifications attached. No wonder teenage pregnancy rates are so stubbornly high.