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 pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Director of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and now also a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technology for stress management in the workplace. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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