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Inequality is a major cause of UK's maternal mortality rates

By Jane Merrick

Published 07/05/2015

Duchess and Duke of Cambridge with Princess Charlotte
Duchess and Duke of Cambridge with Princess Charlotte

It is easy to forget, looking at photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their newborn daughter, Charlotte, that giving birth is a bloody, gory, messy, exhausting business and, in some cases, very dangerous. And not just in countries in the developing world, either.

Save the Children's annual report, State of the World's Mother, reveals that women in this country - one of the most advanced and prosperous nations in the world - are twice as likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth as in some eastern European countries. The UK's overall ranking for motherhood - taking childcare, child-rearing, education, pay and representation into account - is only 24th globally.

On maternal mortality, women in the UK have a one in 6,900 risk of dying compared to one in 19,800 in Poland and one in 45,200 in Belarus.

It is little comfort to read that for women in the US the figure is even worse than ours - maternal deaths are one in 1,800, the worst among the developed nations.

The report found that children born in the UK are more than twice as likely to die before the age of five compared to one born in either Iceland or Luxembourg.

As ever, the Scandinavian countries dominate the top of the global motherhood table, with the top three places going to Norway, Finland and Iceland.

The troubling figures about UK motherhood are not just about comparing our country to others that are doing better, but exposing the deep inequality inside our own.

If you're a middle-class mother, or a Middleton mother, the chances are your birth will go well - although even affluent parents can do little about the shortage of midwives and lack of beds in labour wards in NHS hospitals. Yet, as Kathryn Bolles from Save the Children says, it is inequality in the UK that is causing this country's maternal and childhood death rates to be so high.

The Save the Children report points out that higher representation of women in national government is crucial to improving care of all women.

I agree to an extent - this only works if women in parliament are battling for the poorest mothers in society, not just striving to increase the number of female MPs.

The newly formed Women's Equality Party, by the journalist Catherine Mayer and comedian Sandi Toksvig, sounds like a brilliant, no-brainer organisation, but only if its focus is on equality for all women.

I, too, want to see equal representation in parliament, more women round the Cabinet table and in the boardroom, more female newspaper editors and a new baby princess to be treated equally to a new baby prince.

I will still campaign in favour of a cause I have argued for in the past - the right of daughters of earls and dukes to be able to inherit castles and estates ahead of their younger brothers, which has been given renewed impetus by the birth of Princess Charlotte.

But if we achieve all of this equality for women at the top of society, while poorer mothers are dying in childbirth at alarming rates in Britain, while a woman factory worker, or shop assistant, is paid less than a man for the same job, or while a child born into a low-income family is disadvantaged at school, then none of it will matter tuppence.

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