Teenage pregnancy rates in England and Wales have dropped to an all-time low, new official figures have revealed. In 2016, 18,076 women and girls aged 15 to 17 became pregnant. The year before, the number of conceptions among this age group was 20,351, a decrease of 11%.
The number of girls under 16 becoming pregnant decreased even more dramatically. The number of conceptions to those aged under 16 fell to 2,821 in 2016, compared with 3,466 in 2015, a decrease of 19%.
The total number of teenage pregnancies fell from 59,815 in 2015, to 56,111 in 2016. Figures had peaked in 2007 when 106,319 women and girls aged under 20 became pregnant.
Despite thinking the decline is “fantastic”, Alison Hadley, director of the Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange (TPKE) at the University of Bedfordshire and advisor to Public Health England (PHE) said more still needs to be done to tackle inequalities: “We’ve still got high rates [of teenage pregnancy] compared to Europe and we still have regional and local inequalities with some areas a lot higher than others. It’s about sustaining that downward trend.”
Across England and Wales the average conception rate for under 18s was 18.9 conceptions per thousand women and in 2016. However the rate was a lot higher in Middlesborough (36.5) and Hartlepool (34.9). Other places with higher rates included Hyndburn in Lancashire (36.7), yet Ribble Valley in Lancashire had one of the lowest rates at 8.6. One of the lowest recorded rates of teenage pregnancy was in Westminster, London, at 4.6.
Hyndburn is one of the 20% most deprived districts in England and about 24% (4,100) of children live in low income families. In comparison, Ribble Valley was ranked within the top 50 least deprived areas out of 326 districts and unitary authorities in England.
Isabel Inman, from sexual health charity Brook welcomed the data showing a reduction in conception rates. She said the “dramatic inequalities” between geographical areas could be attributed to a number of factors, “including the disparity in provision of sexual and reproductive health services for young people and the inconsistency of relationships and sex education (RSE) in schools. We know that high quality RSE, coupled with dedicated and accessible young people’s sexual health services are absolutely key to reducing of teenage pregnancy rates.”
Overall in 2016, there were an estimated 862,785 conceptions to women of all ages, compared with 876,934 in 2015, a decrease of 1.6%. Interestingly, conception rates in 2016 decreased for women in all age groups, except for those aged 40 years and over where the rate increased by 2.0%.
Hadley concluded that the decline down to the “well-resourced and very proactive” Government programme that has been in place for the past 10 years. She believes access to contraception has become easier, targeted work in certain areas where teenage pregnancy is high has improved and youth workers have also helped young people think more carefully about what choices they are making. “Young people do see there isn’t an inevitably about early pregnancy anymore,” she told HuffPost UK. “They’re making better informed choices.”
“Young people do see there isn’t an inevitably about early pregnancy anymore."”
Natika H Halil, chief executive of the sexual health charity FPA, agreed that the decline is thanks to a “great deal of hard work” from health and education professionals. However, Halil argued that potential cuts to sexual health services across the country could easily undermine this hard-won achievement.
“We may see these results reverse in the coming years,” she said. “Teenage pregnancy can be a result of many different factors, but we know it can be reduced by investing the right time, resources and expertise into services and education. This investment not only saves money in the long term, but also helps prevent the range of negative long-term educational, health and social outcomes that young parents and their children are more likely to experience.”
In January 2018, Public Health England and the Local Government Association came up with a new Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Framework to help councils and their NHS partners continue to make progress. “Key to sustaining reductions will be ensuring the new statutory status of relationships and sex education translates into high quality provision for all children and young people,” added Hadley.