My roving satirical eye has picked up on an interesting piece by John Rentoul on this week’s Howard Flight breeding nonsense. Now apparently welfare policies do have an impact on fertility. And Rentoul is right to deplore the hysterical sensitivity surrounding public speech in this country – there is something wrong when you can get a conviction for light-hearted jokes on Twitter. (Suzanne Moore in the Shriek is also worth reading.)
Yet I can understand the outrage. It’s legitimate to interpret Flight’s comments as a kind of class Eurabianism – the poor are outbreeding us! Quick, cut their benefits! If this is Flight’s angle, though, he shouldn’t be worried. High fertility rates are one of the main reasons for the stagnation of working class life in the UK. Social mobility is a bitter joke if you are a twenty-year-old council tenant with five children. The workers will breed themselves into extinction long before revolution comes.
I’ve never bought the Daily Shriek argument that the poor reproduce to get benefits and social housing. Do people think: ‘Hey, if I go through the pain and upheaval of having a baby then I can get twenty pound a week in child tax credit’? Maybe they do, people can be really fucking stupid. And I’m not convinced that everyone, on seeing the blue line, considers: ‘Hang on – can I afford to feed, clothe, shelter and care for this child’? It’s about the most life-altering thing you can do, yet we make the decision as if it was nothing. Inevitably, kids don’t get the love and opportunities they need, and go on to live bitter, impoverished lives, during which they will almost certainly have children themselves.
David Simon, in The Corner, attributes the high fertility rates in West Baltimore to fatalism – okay, I may be thirteen years old, but I could be dead tomorrow, so best carry on the name while I still can. In the UK I believe it is more due to the ludicrous propaganda that childbirth is a miracle and the pinnacle of female existence. You can’t exactly blame people for assuming that the world is going to be rearranged around them and their baby. The only way to combat this would be some kind of public health campaign warning people of the responsibilities and hassles of parenthood. I can see the posters now. Picture of a woman in a work toilet looking at a pregnancy test with a pensive frown. Caption: ‘ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE UP FOR THIS?’ or ‘DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU’RE DOING?’
It’s easy for me to say of course, I will never have to go through anything like this. Like Lionel Shriver, I have a fear of childbirth. I just don’t understand why people go through the whole mess. And so young. You get through childhood, you get through adolescence, and then, on the calm beach of your twenties, you decide to go through the whole thing again? Seriously? The whole thing over again?