Can any of us catch a break? Apparently not. Because Conservative MP Robert Jenrick, the UK’s Minister for Immigration, has announced that we should all be having more children to aid our ageing population.
The idea being that having children will fund and provide care for the elderly. Sigh.
The Guardian reported that Jenrick had “strongly” agreed with Professor Matthew Goodwin, who said during an exchange at the Conservative Party conference that he wanted to have a “mature conversation about how we could encourage families to have more children” – with a view to reducing demand for migrant workers.
“We do need to encourage more families to have children,” Jenrick said, “and that’s why the prime minister’s intervention earlier in the year on childcare was important.”
There are a few glaring issues with this school of thought. For one, the inarguable fact that people should get to choose whether or not to have children, not the government. Especially since the cost of living crisis is impacting people’s finances so greatly that it’s now a determining factor as to whether or not people can afford to become parents in the first place.
And when they do have children, parents in particular are more likely to fall into debt. Over half of all mothers (52%) have debts outside their mortgage and student loan, with almost one in 10 mums owing more than £20,000, according to figures shared with HuffPost UK last month.
While the minister touched on potential pain points for prospective parents, like wanting to own a home before having children and improving childcare, other factors like: affordability due to maternity and paternity pay, flexible working, location of habitation and health of family members also play a major role in determining whether or not people can become parents.
Gynaecological issues also pose a major challenge when it comes to conception and fertility health. In the UK, one in 10 women are reported to suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and an estimated 1.5 million women live with endometriosis.
Both conditions have a long diagnostic period. PCOS can take over three years to diagnose, while endometriosis can take upwards of eight years – I, myself, am on year 7.5. And both conditions can affect fertility and the ability to have children, or carry them healthily to term. Yet little is being done in the way of funding to help women suffering from these conditions.
But it’s not just women who are facing fertility woes. Pollution is a cause for concern as it has been linked to declining sperm counts, with one study suggesting there’s been a 50% decline over a 45-year period.
The same report highlights that one in seven pensioners are skipping meals altogether to save on costs. Additionally, a staggering 14,000 people a week are having their requests for care turned down by councils. Why? Because of the overwhelming demand meeting under-resourced teams.
The truth of the matter is migrant care workers play a pivotal role in the UK care system. And, since Britain crashed out of the EU, and the Home Office’s implementation of a points-based system in 2020, few – if any – care worker jobs would allow anyone to qualify for a work visa.
It got to the point where, last year, immigration rules for care workers were relaxed by the Home Office after a mass exodus of care staff left tens of thousands of positions to fill. Figures published since then show that around 58,000 people received visas.
But Jenrick has suggested he’s now considering cuts to the number of care visas and family visas being offered to overseas workers.
With estimates suggesting they’d need to increase the workforce by 445,000 by 2035 to deal with an ageing population, if the government were to reduce visa options, surely the impact would only be harmful to those most in need of care?
The math, as they say, isn’t mathing. The air is so polluted that sperm counts are in decline, and yet the government is rumoured to be scrapping many of its green policies.
So, while Jenrick might think prioritising policy removing more care from the community would somehow improve it, I would argue stripping remaining visas from potential care workers coming from other nations is the least of our concerns. If anything, it’s violently counterproductive.
Katie Baskerville is a freelance journalist covering sex, health and women’s rights. Find her latest articles on www.katiebaskerville.com or follow her @iambaskerville across social media.