Mother and father with newborn. Start4life

Start4Life should have started a long time ago.

Whilst the recent introduction of the Start4Life initiative is very welcomed, it raises the question- why was it not introduced sooner? 

A new care package totalling £500 million was announced last weekend. This marks one of the biggest investments into perinatal and family services since the 1999 Sure Start policy. Perinatal and family services have been bombarded with harsh cuts since 2010, leaving new parents without crucial support services. 

The new proposal includes:

  • £80 million to local authorities for new ‘family hubs’ 
  • £100 million dedicated to mental health support for expectant parents
  • £120 million to family support programmes
  • £200 million for 300,000 most vulnerable to ‘support people through complex issues that could lead to family breakdown’

Too little, too late

The perinatal health landscape has always been starved of funding. Instead of improving services,  there has been a steady decline in programmes and funding. New research shows that at least 1 in 10 new mothers experience postnatal depression. You’d think that would mean both the government and workplaces would step up and provide health care or support as they do with many other illnesses. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. 

The sheer lack of support and disregard over the past 11 years has had devastating effects on new parents and families. According to the 2016 EHRC report, 77% of mothers said they had a ‘negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave’. When scaled up, this converts to 390,000 mothers a year. 

MP Kate Green sums up the long-awaited investment as a ‘smokescreen’ for a ‘failure to deliver for families’. The announcement ‘ring[s] hollow’ after ‘11 years of [..] cuts have forced the closure of over a thousand children’s centres’. Perinatal mental illness is not a new concept; as long as people have been giving birth, these illnesses have been around. 

So, whilst we’re not going to turn our backs Start4Life, it’s important to keep in mind that essential services were forgotten about for years. Crucially, services specifically tailored to women being forgotten about for years. 

Where is the support?

A lack of parental leave and support creates barriers in the workplace. Why then do three quarters of England’s local authorities not have formal policies for parental or maternal care for councillors?

Being based in Birmingham, we were shocked to find out that only 25% of councils in the West Midlands have a formal parental leave policy. To make matters worse, we realised that compared to other counties, 25% was not nearly the worst result. Only 9% of councils in the East Midlands have formal parental leave policies. 

In a survey carried out by Pregnant Then Screwed covering nearly 20,000 mothers or pregnant women, they found that 15% were made redundant, or expected they were going to be made redundant. 

It seems for many women that the only options available after giving birth are to jump straight back into full time work to avoid being let go, or to be pressured to quit their jobs to stay at home full time due to lack of affordable childcare. Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, says that child care should be considered ‘essential infrastructure’, but still we find it being sidelined. 

Bittersweet

This new funding and Start4Life programme will make a difference, but it’s hard to not be concerned that perinatal health and parental support is only going to be forgotten about again in the next couple of years. 

15 million+ women are in the UK workforce- support needs to be in place and be ready to evolve for those who choose to have a child. Research, treatment, and awareness around perinatal mental health is constantly changing- the government needs to keep up.

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