Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2016, overall teenage pregnancy rates were the lowest since records began in 1969.
- Conception rates for women aged 15 to 17 in England and Wales were 18.9 per 1,000 – a 9.6% fall since 2015, and a 60% drop since 1998.
- In England there were 18.8 conceptions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 17 (17,014 in total), an 11% drop from the year before, when there were 20.8 per 1,000 (19,080 in total).
- In Wales, the fall was 17%, from 24.3 per 1,000 (1,271 in total) to 20.9 per 1,000 (1,061 in total).
However, national sexual health charity FPA has raised concerns that this continued fall – the legacy of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, which ended in 2010 – could reverse as a result of recent severe cuts to sexual health services. There are already wide regional variations in rates, and cuts to vital services could widen inequalities even further.
The UK Government has cut public health budgets by £800m over six years, with the Advisory Group on Contraception recently revealing that more than one in three of the 152 councils in England have closed services delivering contraceptive care since 2015. FPA also found that almost one-fifth of women have had to wait over two weeks for a contraception appointment.
FPA’s report, Unprotected Nation, found that just a 10% cut in spending on sexual health and contraceptive services across the UK could mean that teenage pregnancy rates go back to 2003 levels, undoing more than a decade of hard work.
A coalition of almost 30 key sexual health charities and organisations, including FPA, the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, and the British Medical Association, have all called on the Secretary of State for Health to make sure the damaging cuts to sexual health services are reversed.
The UK still has one of the highest teenage birth rates in western Europe, with 6.4 live births to every 1,000 women aged 15 to 17 in 2015, compared to 4.1 in France, 3.6 in Germany, and 2.1 in Italy.
Natika H Halil, Chief Executive of the sexual health charity FPA, said:
“This dramatic fall in teenage pregnancy rates is thanks to a great deal of hard work from health and education professionals, along with the investment in services that we saw during the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy that ended in 2010.
“That’s why it’s so concerning to see the cuts to sexual health services across the country, which could so easily undermine this hard-won achievement, and mean that we see these results reverse in the coming years.
“Teenage pregnancy can be a result of many different factors, but we know it can be reduced by investing the right time, resources and expertise into services and education. This investment not only saves money in the long term, but also helps prevent the range of negative long-term educational, health and social outcomes that young parents and their children are more likely to experience.
“But it’s also important to remember that whether or not young people are sexually active, or choose to become parents, they should never face stigma or judgement. Pregnancy and parenthood can be a positive life choice for young people, and young parents deserve to get the support they need to make informed choices about their lives. This is support that only properly-funded services, alongside high-quality relationships and sex education, can provide.”