Utopian dreams: the TPA object to evidence-based support for pregnant mums

In an ideal world, pregnant mothers wouldn’t smoke, we’d all walk to work and no one would eat junk food. On BBC Radio Kent this morning I put the rational, evidence based case for encouraging mums-to-be to quit smoking through the tried and tested scheme of giving vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables for every week that they don’t smoke. It’s a win-win-win scenario: low cost – healthier mum – healthier baby. Started in Dundee over eight years ago as the ‘Give it up for Baby’ scheme, this smoking cessation support has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of encouraging mothers to quit.

However the Tax Payers Alliance (TPA) object, pouring scorn on mothers who should know better, saying we already spend loads on teenage mums and claiming this scheme is adding to our national debt.

Yet their argument for non-interference based on rising debt is idealistic economics; their repeated accusations of nannying contradicts their concern for prudent use of taxes; their claim that mothers should need no incentives to make good choices ignores reality.

Economically, the long-term costs to the nation of low birth-weight babies born to mums who smoke can be enormous. In addition to the extra post-natal support to help babies gain weight, the risks to the child include breathing problems, sleep apnea, heart problems, jaundice, chronic lung disorders and infections. Some go on to have long-term problems with hyperactivity, development and school achievement.

The extra cost of just one baby born prematurely due to the mother smoking could outweigh the entire-cost of offering a hundred mothers weekly £12.50 grocery vouchers for quitting. The TPA mean well, and it is right to ensure that we don’t rack up more debt. However our concern should be that taxes are spent in the most effective way possible, and whilst others can preach about their Utopian idyl, the rest of us should focus on the evidence, intelligent incentives and the best way to deliver a caring economy.

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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