These are lean times for hospitality and retail. But at least pubs and shops have their champions, popping up on our television channels and radio stations. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, or in this case, taxpayer-funded grants. Where, though, are the voices raised for another activity – also struggling before lockdown – and now facing its own unprecedented crash. Who cares about babies?
Truly, births need a push. Predictions of a boom in coronababies were way, way off. Britain, in common with many other developed nations, is experiencing a sharp new slump in fertility, the full extent of which remains unclear. If our neighbours are anything to go by, we are in for an epidemic of empty cradles. The number of babies born in France is down by 13 per cent. In Spain and Italy births have fallen by a fifth. Data suggests half a million fewer American babies will be born this year – similar to the number of Covid deaths.
Lockdown means couples aren’t getting together and, those who already have, are postponing pregnancies because of The Uncertainty. While home-schooling and household chores may have a contraceptive effect on those who can have children, IVF has been all-but-halted for those who can’t. But the virus is a catalyst not a cause. Birth-rates had tanked to an all-time low six months before the UK recorded its first case of Covid.
This is a crisis without a climax. There won’t be a demographic equivalent of Black Wednesday, when the markets spook and sterling collapses. If you think we’re good at ignoring national debt because a reckoning is too far in the future, console yourself with the thought that at least the Treasury worries about it on your behalf.