Jemma,14; Jade 15 and Natasha, 18 live with their mother, Julie
Atkins on £31,000 worth of benefits. Jemma has a son T-Jay;
Jade has a daughter, Lita, and Natasha has a daughter, Amani. The
Daily Mail has referred to the family as a “baby factory”. A life
on benefits; under-age sex; teenage pregnancies and only one of the
three fathers giving (occasional) financial support.
“What this family tells us about Britain today” ran the Mail’s
front page headline. What it allegedly tells us, according to
writer Melanie Phillips, is that, “we are a nation divided…
between those who live by civilised standards and those who, with
the connivance of the State, take responsibility for nothing.”
What tosh. What this family does remind us yet again is the
devastatingly bleak and unimaginative landscape of some people’s
lives that they consider sex at the age of 11 as normal.
In 2000, Labour said it would halve Britain’s rate of teenage
pregnancy by 2010. In spite of a £40m strategy, figures have
risen slightly. Looking at the European table of live births per
thousand girls aged 13-19, the contrasts are striking. Sweden has
4.2 live births per thousand; Denmark and the Netherlands five;
Hungary 15; Latvia 16 and the UK tops the league with 19.4 live
births per thousand.
Ministers blame parents; Mr Atkins blames Mrs Atkins; Mrs Atkins
blames sex education in school. She’s right – at least in part. In
countries with the lowest rates, they don’t have “sex”
Instead, from primary school, children are taught about
relationships; the importance of respect for themselves and others
and the physical and emotional consequences of multiple
As a result, young people become sexually active on average much
later than in the UK; most use contraceptives and there are fewer
regrets. Another factor at play is income. In Denmark and Holland
poverty is less prevalent. In addition, there is a public consensus
that a baby at 15 often results in a waste of talent and
In the UK, a decent standard of living and that optimism about
human potential is absent. Teenage mothers exist in such large
numbers because the underprivileged communities of which they are a
part condone a child bringing up a child.
It’s deprivation and that failure of aspiration that needs to be
addressed from a very young age – and in a way that the UK has
signally failed to achieve so far.