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Disturbing maternal mortality rates indicate a dereliction of duty by the Conservatives

Black women are almost four times more likely to die in childbirth than White women (Alamy)

3 min read

Giving birth can be the happiest moment of many women’s lives, and the happiest moment for their partners as well.

They may have spent months picking out cots, prams and babygrows for the new arrival. Grandparents, aunts and uncles will gather, waiting to meet the newest member of the family.

The idea that a new mother may not come home from hospital is an unthinkable prospect. Thankfully, death in childbirth is a tragedy that is rare in our country in this day and age, but it is one that is real, and one that has become more common in recent years. And, worryingly, it is a tragedy that affects some people more than others.

This week's Women and Equalities Select Committee report, which found that death rates in deprived areas were on the rise, made for particularly grim reading.

Overall, the rate of maternal mortality rose by 12 per cent between 2013 and 2019. That is a shocking statistic and one that shames this government. Additionally, Black women are almost four times more likely to die in childbirth than White women, while Asian women are almost twice as likely.

Urgent action is crucial, to tackle these bitter inequalities and trends. But the Conservatives continue to fail to act, neglecting women across the country. 

The Tories have only ever paid lip service to tackling this issue. The government set up a Maternal Disparities Taskforce to tackle these disparities and introduced a target in the 2019 NHS Long Term Plan that 75 per cent of Black, Asian, minority ethnic and mothers from deprived areas would have continuity of midwife by 2023.

But last year Ministers scrapped the continuity of carer targets due to midwife shortages. According to the Royal College of Midwives, the number of midwives in the NHS has fallen year-on-year for the past five years. And this week, it was discovered that the Maternal Disparities Taskforce had not met for nine months. How can a government that would allow enough time for a baby to be carried to term to elapse between meetings say it is taking this issue seriously?  

Labour will commit to setting a clear target within the NHS to close the gap. We will restore maternity services by training 10,000 more midwives and nurses and 5,000 new health visitors a year as part of the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history, paid for by scrapping the non dom tax exemption.    

This is also a societal issue. It is unthinkable to ignore the fact that Black women are dying at such higher rates. Again, the Conservatives don’t even seem to grasp the problem. The government’s Women’s Health strategy sets out no actions to address Black maternal mortalities.  

Labour will make tackling race inequalities a key focus of government, including tackling this glaring gap. Our landmark Race Equality Act will tackle racism at source, including improving health provision for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.  

Death in childbirth is a heartbreaking tragedy. It is one that the government should be laser focused on reducing. However, the Conservatives have failed to address this challenge, allowing inequalities to fester and damage people’s health outcomes while they continue their 13 years of mismanagement of our NHS. This is nothing less than a dereliction of duty. Labour will make tackling this issue, and the glaring inequalities related to it, a priority in government.

Anneliese Dodds is a Labour MP and Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary.

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