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Social Market Foundation warns of “baby shortage”

By Rachel Lawlerbaby sleeping

Falling fertility rates could leave the UK with fewer worker and a weaker economy, the thinktank Social Market Foundation has warned.

The Social Market Foundation says that total fertility rate – or number of children per woman – was 1.58 in England and Wales in 2020. In Scotland the rates was 1.29.

Working-age adults
This means that, depending on immigration and life expectancy trends, the UK could see its population shrink in the 21st century, leaving the country with a shortage of working-age adults.

The Social Market Foundation has suggested steps to mitigate this issue, including greater parental leave and cheaper childcare. Its report argues that the high cost of childcare in the UK “might meant that there is more scope for the government to influence birth rates through childcare policy in the UK than in other parts of the world”.

Benefits for parents and families
Aveek Bhattacharya, chief economist at the Social Market Foundation, commented: “Many other liberal democracies are exploring the use of policies like cash payments to parents, more generous parental leave and cheaper childcare to make it easier for those that want children to have them. Here in the UK we should consider the merit of these policies– not least because they would bring many other benefits to parents, children and wider society.”

Reverse the trend
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: "It is utterly shameful that so many parents are having to choose to have less children – or none at all – because childcare costs in this country are so unaffordable. Worse still, the situation is now so bad that we’re seeing a worrying decline in birth rates as a result.

"There should be no doubt that this is the consequence of a complete failure of government policy. Nurseries, pre-schools and childminders have been grossly underfunded for years, leaving them with no choice but to increase fees for parents, or be forced out of business. 

"The private government documents we uncovered through our two-year Freedom of Information battle proved that the government knew that this would happen when they rolled out the 30-hour policy, and that they have been underfunding the early years sector for years, knowing that it would be parents and providers who paid the price.

"With the Spending Review just weeks away and a new team in place at the Department for Education, it's not too late for the government to reverse the concerning trends that the SMF has identified, and recognise that adequately funding our childcare and early education system is one of the wisest investments it can make."