§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the incidence of infant mortality among the various socio-economic groups; and what action is being taken to reduce infant mortality among the poorest families.
§ Dr. Owen
The number of infant deaths and estimated mortality rates—deaths of infants under 1 year of age per 1,000 estimated live births—in England and Wales by social class for the three-year period, 1970–72, are as follows:
Social Class Deaths Rate I Professional 1,622 11.6 II Intermediate occupations 4,529 13.6 III Skilled occupations 19,250 16.5 IV Partly skilled occupations 7,627 19.7 V Unskilled occupations 4,001 30.0
One of my Department's research priorities is the reviewing and planning of research into all aspects of infant mortality. On 10th May—[Vol. 911, c. 74–5]—I gave the House details of research sponsored by my Department to identify groups of children aged from one week to 2 years at risk of death and the avoidable medical and social factors. These projects include study of the social and environmental circumstances of all child deaths in the study areas.
Research findings suggest that sudden infant deaths are less frequent in infants who are breast fed, and every encouragement is given to mothers to breast feed their babies for a minimum of two weeks and preferably for the first six months of life. However, the welfare food scheme provides modified baby milk free of 92W charge for mothers in the lowest income families who do not breast feed their babies.
The preventive child health services are not readily used by the most vulnerable groups in the community; my Department is exploring ways of encouraging better use of these services and has proposed an expansion of the health visiting service to allow more support to be given to mothers and improved monitoring of the health of children, particularly those in the lower socio-economic groups.