Let's get this right. Big Hearted Al Johnson is going to give £200 of our money to all pregnant women so they can buy "healthy" food. The idea is that mums-to-be can't afford to eat properly.Right. So the reason they eat chips and chocolate is because they can't afford broccoli and oily fish. Well, obviously they're bound to spend the two hundred quid on putting that right.
In the real world, even St Jamie wasn't able to make people eat "sensible" food (since his broccoli pasta supplanted Turkey Twizzlers, school dinners take-up has fallen by 400,000 per day).
But surely even Al isn't that dumb. Is he?
What's really going on?
The answer is probably teenage pregnancy.
As you will know, we have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. Every year, some 80,000 under-18 year olds conceive, of whom somewhat over half go through to maternity. And the ones that do are overwhelmingly from the lowest socio-economic groups. They are four times more likely to get pregnant than the highest groups, and only around half as likely to have an abortion if they do. Which means well over half of teenage mothers are in the bottom third of society.
Now once those girls have their child, they cop a load of state welfare: indeed, in some parts of Britain it's a major career option. But before then, it's rather more difficult. Because of their youth, they don't qualify for the same level of welfare as say a pregnant 25 year old.
So what Al is really doing here is to extend state welfare to some very young girls who in all probability are currently wholly dependent on their own parents. At a cost of about £140m pa (700,000 births pa times £200 equals £140m pa) he aims to change that and make them dependent on the state.
This is what's known in the trade as A Bad Idea. Giving more money to feckless teens so as to reward their fecklessness is a sure way of boosting even further the number of problem mums. Which is presumably why he's been careful not to mention teenage mums at all.
What he and the other commissars should be doing is studying US experience. There, the teenage pregnancy rate fell by over a third in a decade. And a key driver was the Clinton welfare reforms which cut support for impecunious mums.
PS The Major points out that the US teenage pregnancy rate started falling well before the Clinton reforms. Indeed, its peak was in 1990. He reckons that was down to Roe v Wade two decades earlier, which effectively legalised abortion and put a spoke in the wheel of the intergenerational teenage fecklessness cycle. When I said he'd ripped off that idea from Freakonomics, he went bright red and spluttered that Al J would be much better advised using the £140m bribing all those no-hope bottom of the heap pregnant teenagers to have an abortion. Which would save everyone a world of expense and misery.
PPS Tyler's great great grandmother was the illegitimate daughter of a twenty-year-old mum in Victorian Wiltshire. They both had to live with my gggg grandfather, the village blacksmith, and the rest of his family. Which must have been fun. Because such was the shame, mum somehow found herself a husband (possibly the father, possibly not) and all three moved to Wales pronto. It was never talked of in the family again, and the truth only came out one-and-a-half centuries later, after careful study at the (excellent but doomed to closure) Family Records Centre. But you know what? Despite the absence of state support, they all survived. And indeed, prospered.
(htp Ed Morgan)