Barbara Robson

Curious Indeed

This is a curious tale of Birth and Death in the UK. Let’s begin with a birth.
In 1976 I gave birth at the NHS City of London Maternity Hospital. I had a midwife who had known me from early pregnancy, who took me into hospital in her own car. The wards were half empty. No surprise, since the contraceptive pill and the Abortion Act meant far fewer births than predicted. The newspapers ran stories of the ‘missing million’ children and how those born in 1976 looked forward to a golden future with a choice of jobs.

Those in the civil service and local authorities, who map out all our lives and farm our tax, did sums, took account, made new plans, affecting us for fifty years. Local authorities started to amalgamate schools to much protest. Hospitals, including the City of London Maternity, were closed. We didn’t need these facilities with such low birth rates. What we needed were more homes, since divorce was easier and single mothers had to have flats and the one-person household was on the rise. Schools, hospitals, even churches became dwellings for the young middle classes. Now, both inflation and house prices were also on the rise, making it almost impossible for that old model of working dad, stay-at-home mother, with two kids to last.

People in charge of pensions spotted another huge problem. Since 1948, it was possible to argue, that everyone knew the way we funded the old age pension was bonkers. It depended on lots of workers paying for pensioners who died within a few years of retirement. By 1979 both political parties sensed disaster but kept quiet, pushing private pensions instead. The National Insurance stamp was simply the gilding on a bad system. Now there would be fewer workers, wouldn’t there? Not if married women went to work, paying tax and their stamp. Many families now needed two wages to finance a mortgage. It was a neat idea, so mother x looked after mother y’s baby and mother y looked after mother x’s baby. Everyone was happy at first but it was a roundabout hard to get off.

Still fewer births but the system got rid of those not up to standard; that saved on care costs. Now all we needed was to lose other people surplus to requirements. It was not that eugenics was mentioned but we couldn’t rely on Asian flu’ every year could we? How about getting them to eat less? That at least would save on food. How long can you survive on less than 2000 calories? (simple statistics show the elderly halve life expectancy by going into care.) Not that anyone sat down and actually planned this of course; no paper trails, no public trials.

Mother x and mother y with children at school, worked night shifts at care homes but their own kids wouldn’t stay in their own beds – a daughter got pregnant. The father was still at school, technically, at least. It was left to economic migrants to do most of the care work now, paying taxes and their stamp but they are not robots – they have needs too. Now the birth rate is rising. Not a surprise since most of the new workers are young fertile people.Where are the midwives, the maternity units, the primary schools, the hospitals, even the churches, why did no one foresee this and plan for it all? Meanwhile, millions of civil servants and local authority workers, now so numerous that no political party can challenge them, sigh, contemplating their inflation proof pensions, wondering if mother is safe in that care home and can they afford private school fees?

Barbara Robson

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