£60 million boost for pregnant mums to reduce child poverty

Public Health Minister, Yvette Cooper, will today announce a £60 million boost to tackle child poverty in low income areas even before children are born. The money will extend Sure Start programmes to cover pregnant women and their partners for the first time alongside families with children under four-years-old.

The funding will enable expectant mums and partners to access a wide range of advice and support services from the time of conception, rather than birth, and will help tackle problems such as poor nutrition, low birth weight, smoking and access to benefits.

There is clear evidence to show the importance of supporting parents-to-be during pregnancy. Research shows:

  1. the infant mortality rate in lowest income areas is 70% higher than in most affluent areas
  2.  babies of fathers with low incomes are, on average,130 grams (4.5 ounces) lighter than babies of father with high incomes
  3. low birthweight babies develop higher blood pressure by the age of 11 and have increased risk of Coronary Heart Disease in later life
  4. lower birthweight babies may have lower educational achievements and qualifications regardless of social background
  5. babies born to women who smoke during pregnancy are on average 200 grams (7 ounces) lighter than babies born to non-smoking mothers
  6. pregnant women on low incomes have lower nutrient intakes - including lower intakes of vitamins such as B1, B12, D and Iron
  7.  women in low income and poor housing areas have higher rates of post-natal depression
  8. where mother suffer post natal depression, sons are more likely to have educational and emotional problems by the age of 11
  9. babies in low income families are less likely to be breastfed.

Ms Cooper will announce the £60 million package at a seminar organised by the Institute for Public Policy and Research (IPPR) today. She said:

Research shows that what happens in pregnancy can affect a child and a family for many years and many decades to come.Every parent knows what a significant time pregnancy can be for the child and the family.That is why the government is recognising the importance of pregnancy too, by extending Sure Start to cover parents to be.

Pregnant women and their partners in low income areas are less likely to get the support they want and need to give their child the best start in life. That is why tackling child poverty means providing more support and opportunities in low income areas before the child is even born.

I am delighted to announce a £60 million boost to support pregnant women and their partners in low income areas, as part of an increasing government focus on pregnancy and the very start of children's lives.

"The Government is today publishing new guidance for Sure Start programmes which sets out new services and targets that Sure Start will need to meet in order to reach families before the baby is born. Ministers are also writing to existing Sure Start's to invite them to bid for additional resources to support pregnant women and their partners. The package of support for pregnant women and their partners in low income areas will be worth up to £60 million over the next three years."

The £60 million funding is part of the wider package agreed in the Government's Spending Review 2000, which will see the number of Sure Start programmes double from a target of 250 to 500 schemes by 2003-2004 and total funding for Sure Start raise to £500 million a year.

New services which may be developed among Sure Start programmes include:

  • extra ante-natal support such as health checks and advice provided in the family home or local community centres
  • clinics and support groups to meet other pregnant women and parents
  • specialist help and advice for women who want to give up smoking during pregnancy
  • advice on benefits, maternity and paternity leave and pay and family finances
  • information on nutrition including access to food co-ops and affordable healthy food
  • childcare, training and education options for parents who plan to return to work
  • advice on breastfeeding and support to tackle post natal depression

At the moment Sure Start programmes, which are based in some of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the country, aim to visit all new parents within two months of the birth of their child to introduce them to the range of help and support on offer. Sure Start services range from childcare, play and early learning opportunities to parenting courses, guidance on healthcare and advice on financial benefits

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