Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Shocking Teen Pregnancy Figures for Wales' Labour Heartlands.

According to the BBC, Merthyr Tydfil has the highest rate of pregnancy (73 per 1000) among 15-17-year-olds for the whole of England and Wales, with Rhondda Cynon Taf coming second. And is anyone surprised?

What really irritated me, though, was the same tired response as we always get to these stories, that wasn't even graced with a name:

Proposals to tackle teenage pregnancies in Wales were unveiled last summer with plans for better sex education to be taught.

The assembly government also aimed to cut the rates of sexually transmitted infections and highlight the dangers of unprotected sex.

The Assembly Government are missing the point. Sex education *is* crucial, but it's nothing new. It's not better sex education that's needed, teenagers know very well how contraception works and how babies are made. What's needed is a paradigm shift whereby more teenagers in Wales realise their own value.

This is about young people having such poverty of aspiration that the only thing they can imagine will give them self-worth is the dependency of a child. When you have grown up in a place that was once a proud community, but has had its heart and soul ripped out of it by generations of Tory and Labour misrule; when your chances of shaping yourself a future by going to university are dashed by the eyewatering amount of debt you have to get yourself in to even try it; when you can't get a job or even a role in training no matter how hard you try or how capable you are; when as a childless, jobless young person you are treated like scum by the jobcentre staff.. it's a fairly inevitable consequence.

Maybe that's why so many people in Merthyr are so happy to have been presented with an alternative to the status quo. Amy Kitcher grew up in Merthyr, and she's radical, progressive, and wants to bring positive change and fairness to the valleys she calls home. She's started this in her role as the town's youngest ever woman councillor, as well as in an impressive breadth of experience in charity work. In the 2008 local elections, she and five colleagues took council seats for the Liberal Democrats and formed what was arguably that council's first official opposition in a very long time. The voters in those wards must have felt that breath of fresh air that can only come when so many people have been so disenfranchised for so long. And the old order of Labour and Independent councillors with their snouts in the trough and their backs on the people is very much under threat. Good! I hope she ends up as MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney in a few weeks' time. Not just because she's a Liberal Democrat and I'm some kind of cheerleader for everyone with a yellow rosette, but because in common with the vast majority of our candidates nationwide, she's a real fighter for social justice and equality, with deeply held convictions and values. That sets her leagues apart from those slick-suited career politicians who are in it to make themselves look good, to get their freebies, and to earn an easy buck with their smooth talking skills with no real connection to the words that are coming out of their mouths. It's those uncaring career politicians, the snakes so prevalent in the two arrogant and interchangeable main parties, who give glib remarks about planning better teaching of sex education and assume they will be seen as doing enough. At a time like this what young people in Wales need is hope and opportunities, not a patronising teacher putting a condom on a banana.


Richard said...

Hi Steph

So glad your blogging again and I couldn,t agree more. You need a wider platform for your views

RJG [Preseli]

Al Iguana said...

For someone living in a place like this, there are three options:

1) education, and move away.
2) Baby, flat, benefits
3) Crap job while you're on the waiting list to get on the X-Factor for instant fame and fortune.

It's not sex education that's needed, it's aspiration. And when you live in a town where there is nothing, the way to give aspiration is to actually put things there: factories, businesses, and give the youngsters guaranteed apprentiships in these places (like when our parents were young). If having a baby is going to ruin your apprenticeship, you'll think twice. If having a baby means you get a council flat and benefits, then of course having a baby is something to aspire to.

Trouble is, these (three kids by the time they're 18) people will pass that mentatility onto their kids, and their kids, and it will be a never-ending spiral.

Steph Ashley said...

Al, I'm not sure I agree with you 100%. Not all teenage parents are looking to get themselves a council flat and live on benefits, in fact I've only met one ever with that aim in mind. They may get pregnant on purpose, but I believe it's more a case of low self worth which leads to (consciously or subconsciously) looking for validation in the wrong places - from the dependency of an infant. Be careful about stigmatising them...

I have known plenty of teenage mothers who have worked hard to provide a decent upbringing for their children in whatever way they could, and then pushed their children to avoid making the same mistakes they did. Their adult children tend to be incredibly proud, strong-minded and determined individuals. Modest too ;)

That point aside, we would appear to have similar views about what can be done to remedy the lack of aspiration. I'm pleased with my party's views here, because they are real plans to shift the culture. Internships and work experience to be rewarded at rates above JSA instead of meaning a benefit cut, fully funded apprenticeships and foundation degrees, all excellent stuff!