The passion of the secretary of state for work and pensions (Two babies, one future, 2 July) for early intervention to increase the chances of a disadvantaged child moving out of poverty brings horses bolting and open stable doors to mind. For too many children disadvantage starts with a mother who cannot afford a healthy diet and might not know enough about the food she needs to give birth to a healthy baby. International research, headed by the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, has shown that poor maternal nutrition leads to poor cognitive ability, developmental brain disorder and a higher risk of cerebral palsy.
The last government took the point and added the health in pregnancy grant, the baby entitlement of the child tax credit, the toddler entitlement of the child tax credit and the child trust fund, but it too should have started before women conceive by increasing their unemployment benefit of £53.45 a week. The present government abolished all these benefits, so reducing the income during pregnancy and the first year of a baby’s life by £1,735, as calculated by Family Action.
An unemployed woman aged 18-25, before and during pregnancy, has an income of just £53.45 a week. This will be more vulnerable to rent arrears from housing benefit caps, still vulnerable to unregulated loan sharks, and is likely to be overtaken by the escalating weekly cost of a healthy diet and domestic fuel, with the annual uprating now pegged to the RPI. The public health white paper only mentions food when abolishing the Food Standards Agency and never mentions debt, another source of mental illness.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Chair, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust