Monday, 10 September 2007
Cash for Pregnancy?
The latest suggestion that the government is going to give pregnant mums up to £200 cash towards "healthy food" received heated debate on comment boards yesterday. "Definitely not", "total stupidity", "another ruse to get people to vote Labour" were just some of the early thoughts.
The policy is mad.
It is medically flawed. If the aim is to get pregnant women to eat well then the critical point is the first 3 months of pregnancy - but the suggestion is this money will be given at 29 weeks ie for the last 3 months.
It provides no guarantee that the money will go where it is needed. Why give the money as cash? When I was pregnant with number 3 all I craved was chocolate - I would probably have spent it all on Dairy Milk, would that have been a good use of tax-payers money? There is already a "healthy start" voucher system for people on low incomes. This has replaced the old welfare food scheme whereby mums were given free formula milk and is helping to encourage mums to breast feed.
It's hugely expensive. I've seen estimates from £70 million to £140 million EACH YEAR. Why give a professional mother on £60k a year an extra £200? Why not direct the help to those who really need it? By the time a mother-to-be reaches 29 weeks pregnant they should have seen their doctor or midwife at least twice. I can see complete sense in giving some help, for medical reasons, to mothers who are seriously struggling to feed themselves properly at this stage but that is a small minority.
There are much better things to do with this money. Brown could buy decent equipment for the troops in Basra or Afghanistan. He could use it to keep our maternity wards open or to recruit some of the 5,000 midwifes that the Royal College of Midwifes say are needed over the next few years. Incidentally, I spoke to a senior midwife this morning. She was rushing off to do extra hours covering sick leave because yet another of her colleagues has broken under the stress of overwork. As a midwife she said this policy sounds like complete madness - yet again the government is not listening to professionals.
However, if you view this policy as a nice populist Brownite election bribe, helping all those cute little babies ... then you completely understand why he is doing it.