Often politics is about the obvious: describe who you are in ways that appeal to as many people as possible; choose issues that are talismanic; be careful about how much you go against the grain.Policy on the other hand can be very tricky, slippery stuff, particularly in areas that are sensitive to large parts of the population.
Lets take one area, something that has – as far as I can tell – not been the subject of a lot of debate in Lewisham despite the critical impact it is having on the lives of large numbers of people now and in the future.
Sexual health in Lewisham (and the rest of South East London) is a real, and continuing, problem according to this report:
One in four diagnoses of chlamydia and one in three diagnoses of Gonorrhoea in England and Wales are made in GUM clinics in this area [South East London]. Between 1996 and 2000 the prevalence of HIV infection was between seven and nine times the national prevalence. Local rates of teenage pregnancy are among the highest in the UK and still rising.
Lewisham is a young borough with one in five of the population is aged under 15 years old and this is clearly an issue that affects young people disproportionately. The PCT have a draft report on children’s health for 2005 which has a section on sexual health, it says:
Reports from the Lewisham reproductive health clinics for 2004/5 indicate that of all chlamydia/gonorrhoea tests taken over the year, 57% were in people under 25:
- nearly 1 in 5 people aged 20 being tested were positive for chlamydia.
- than [sic] 1 in 25 people aged under 20 being tested were positive for gonorrhoea.
- 2,230 Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) treatments were given (an increase of 32% from 2003/4.) 65% of treatments were for chlamydia or chlamydia/ Non Specific Urethritis contacts (figures April 2004- February 2005), 69% of STI treatments were given to people aged under 25
What has been the response from the public sector? There certainly appear to be a fair number of sexual health clinics, and there are clearly work being done to raise the profile of safe sex amongst the target group (the question remains whether they know why they’re the lucky recipients of free condoms). It is worth noting that the strategies around teenage pregnancy are having considerable success.
But let’s take a look at this piece of research, which was looking at community attitudes to the sexual behaviour of young people. The authors found:
Knowledge of local services was suboptimal. Twenty percent of respondents did not know where young people could get contraception or advice on sexual health issues… Seventy-six percent thought parents and 56% thought schools are the key sources of sexual health information for young people.
It looks like the Department of Health are encouraging some interesting things elsewhere and I hope the evaluations are positive.
But sex education in school remains a subject that parents can insist their children don’t attend, and PSHE isn’t a statutory subject (despite advice from the government’s independent advisors on teenage pregnancy).
Personally, I’d like to see more work put into seeing whether normative education might have the impact in this country as it appears to have done in Montana.
Further reading – Health of Children in Lewisham