Gay Labour MP Chris Bryant today launched a new report with dramatic newly compiled figures on teenage pregnancies in every constituency in England and Wales.
Mr Bryant represents the south Wales working class constituency of the Rhondda, where there is a particularly striking rate of teen pregnancies.
The report takes the form of an interactive web site, www.teenagemums.org.uk.
It includes an analysis of the most recent statistical and research work as well as conversations with young people and teenage mums.
It also contains 22 recommendations on sex and relationship education, the benefits system, supportive housing for teenage mums and the availability of contraception.
The MP, who was 26th in the PinkNews.co.uk list of Britain’s 50 most powerful LGBT people in British politics, will also lead a debate in Parliament today.
Mr Bryant said: “Teenage pregnancy is one of the toughest issues facing our poorest communities. It has been fascinating looking at the statistics and listening to youngsters and professionals alike.
“There are real challenges here – for government, for politicians and for all of us. I very much hope that people will visit the web site and make their own comments. This is just the start of the debate.”
In the report he states: “Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe and the second highest, after the USA, in the world.
“Depressingly, the map of teenage pregnancy is the map of British deprivation. In my own constituency, the Rhondda, the figures are striking. There were 101 live births to teenagers last year. That means that nearly 1 in 25 of all the 2,325 teenage women in the Rhondda gave birth in 2006. It was not an unusual year. And the Rhondda does not have the highest rate for teenage mums in England or in Wales.
“Everybody wants to tackle the problem. Churches complain about it. Children’s charities worry about it. Local authorities fret about it. Parents and teachers are anxious about it. The Government is committed to action and has managed to cut the rate since its peak between 1995 and 97 by roughly 12%.
“But the truth is that in Britain this is proving a remarkably intransigent problem. Cracking it will require far greater political determination. We need to be prepared to challenge deeply held prejudices and perceptions about sex, about education, about growing up and about what the state should provide.
“We need to face the fact that youngsters are sexualised very early on television, in popular music, in young people’s magazines – and that the whole pressure from the media is towards early (and incidentally, often illegally early) sexual experience. And we need to look at other countries’ experiences – because they have been far more successful in cutting teenage pregnancy rates.
“This is not a question of being more liberal or more conservative. Natural conservatives have to acknowledge that their opposition to good statutory sex education and contraception is part of the problem. And liberals need to come to terms with the fact that laissez faire cultural attitudes to sex have equally contributed to the soaring rates and that many girls, especially in the poorest communities, choose to become pregnant as young teenagers.
“Of course many teenage mums, against the odds, are immensely successful parents. And the last thing they need from politicians is a self-righteous lecture.
“But tackling teenage pregnancy is one of the most important challenges we face in areas like the Rhondda. It is one of the major reasons that poverty is handed down through the generations. It perpetuates the vicious cycle of under-achievement, benefit dependency, ill health, lack of aspiration, poor parenting and child poverty that blights so many areas of Britain.
“Whatever our personal attitudes to sex, we have to look at what works – and what is not working now. It is an urgent problem. Some may say that it is notoriously difficult for politicians or for Government to shift social attitudes, but I am certain we can make a difference.”
Mr Bryant makes 22 recommendations in the report, including that all children be provided with better, earlier information about sex and relationships, that Sex and Relationships Education in schools should start before the onset of puberty.
He also called for a national campaign to provide free condoms to young people, making them available in places where young people go, aimed at cutting STIs and pregnancies.
This should start in the 150 wards in England and Wales with the highest levels of teenage pregnancy.