Hilary Armstrong, the newly-appointed social exclusion minister, has admitted that it is “touch-and-go ” whether the government will meet its target to halve the number of under-18 pregnancies by 2010.
The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, launched by Tony Blair in 1999, has prompted a year-on-year fall in conception rates in teenagers under the age of 18. In her first speech since being promoted to the Cabinet Office, Armstrong applauded the strategy’s progress but said that, with an expected 40,000 teenage pregnancies in the next year, the most excluded in society are “becoming more exposed”.
She said: “Teenage pregnancy rates in the UK are five or six times higher than those in other European countries. They have been coming down, but we might as well be honest – it is going to be touch-and-go whether we to meet our ambitious target.”
A spokesperson for leading sexual health charity the Family Planning Association agreed with Armstrong’s prognosis: “Since 1998 the number of under-18s falling pregnant has reduced by 11%. But there are hotspots that remain where a whole raft of social care work needs to be carried out in order to get the rate down.”
In her maiden speech Armstrong also highlighted the importance of improving the self-esteem and aspirations of socially excluded young people. She said 2-3% of young people end up with multiple problems in their teenage years – such as alcohol abuse, early sexual activity and conduct disorder – accounting for around 20,000 of the children born in the UK every year.
Calling for a more preventive approach, Armstrong claimed that early family and parenting-focused interventions had been shown to be effective in reducing violence in the home and teenagers’ contact with the criminal justice system.
She said the UK needed to do much better for children in care. The UK could learn from countries such as Denmark and Germany, who “appear to do so much better for their kids in care”. She added: “I think we should be open minded about other more radical options, such as the wider use of boarding schools that has recently been discussed in the media.”