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England’s teenage pregnancy rate halved in last 15 years

The rate of under-18 conceptions in England has declined by 51% since 1998*, exceeding the goal of the original teenage pregnancy strategy, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Figures released for 2014 show that 22.8 per 1,000 young women under-18 became pregnant, compared with 46.6 per 1,000 in 1998, with numbers dropping from 41,089 to 21,282. The under-16 rate has also declined to 4.4 per 1,000. Both are now at their lowest level since 1969 when records began.

Alison Hadley, Director of the Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange, at the University of Bedfordshire, who led the teenage pregnancy strategy, which began in 1999, said:

“This is an extraordinary achievement in addressing a complex public health and inequalities issue affecting the lives of young people and their children. Many people thought the goal was unattainable and that high rates were an intractable part of English life.

“This shows that committed senior leadership, dedicated local practitioners, effective education programmes and easier access to contraception equips young people to make informed choices and brings down rates even in deprived areas.

“Long-term prevention programmes take time to have their full impact. In the case of the teenage pregnancy strategy, this is demonstrated by acceleration in the annual reduction of the under-18 conception rate since 2008,” said Alison.

She added: “But despite the big reduction, the job is not done. England continues to lag behind comparable western European countries, teenagers continue to be at greatest risk of unplanned pregnancy and outcomes for some young parents and their children remain disproportionately poor.”

There is also a big difference in progress between English regions. London has achieved a reduction of 57.9% compared to 46.5% in the North East. The region with the highest rate is the North East at 30.2 conceptions per 1,000 young women under 18, compared to the South East and South West with rates of 18.8 conceptions per 1,000.

“It is vital to keep a focus on teenage pregnancy to sustain the progress made and narrow inequalities. Universal, high quality sex and relationships education, well publicised, easy to use contraceptive and sexual health services, a youth friendly workforce and good support for young parents, all need to be in place so successive generations of young people have the knowledge, skills and confidence to make choices. Disinvestment now risks an upturn in the rates.” Alison warned.

The Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange, at the University of Bedfordshire, is the national source of expert advice and information on teenage pregnancy, providing training, research and consultancy. Alison is also Teenage Pregnancy Advisor to Public Health England and working with the World Health Organisation to share the successful lessons of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy internationally.