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.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. 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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