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20 October 2021

Rachel Cunliffe’s Diary: Ecology vs fertility, the Met’s empathy problem, and a commitment to weddings

Climate anxiety might be a factor in young people's family planning, but more than squeezed incomes or a precarious labour market? Surely not.

By Rachel Cunliffe

I was surprised to read in the Daily Mail that the reason the UK’s total fertility rate (the number of children per woman of reproductive age) has fallen to its lowest since records began in 1938 isn’t squeezed incomes or a precarious labour market, or that a third of millennials will never be able to afford a home. No, according to “experts”, plummeting fertility is down to a “fear of a degraded future due to climate change”. Well, one expert: Dr Britt Wray, a human and planetary health fellow at Stanford University.

Wray’s assessment is based on a survey of 10,000 16- to 25-year-olds, which found that six in ten are worried about climate change, and four in ten fear having children for that reason. I don’t question that climate anxiety might be a factor in young people’s future plans. But more than wondering how to raise a baby in insecure rental accommodation when the tax rate is about to hit its highest sustained peacetime level and the average British couple with kids spends 41 per cent of their income on childcare? I have my doubts.

How the Met can regain trust

Earlier this month, four days after Wayne Couzens was sentenced for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard – at the time of which he was a serving Metropolitan Police officer – the Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, announced an independent review into the institution’s standards and culture. Up until that point, there seemed to be very little understanding by the Met of quite how much its reputation had been damaged, both by the way Couzens used his status as a police officer to facilitate the kidnap, and by the red flags – from indecent exposure accusations, to his reportedly being nicknamed “the rapist” by past colleagues – that were ignored by his employers.

But if there were any doubt about the need for change within the Met, it has been dispelled: first by the revelations that Couzens had shared misogynistic WhatsApp messages with other officers, then with the news that another officer in his unit had been charged with rape, and now with a report from the Independent that the full personal details, including the home address, of a woman who complained to the Metropolitan Police about a male officer’s aggression were shared with the officer in question.

[See also: The Met Police is in disgrace – but its problems are decades in the making]

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The woman said she felt “vulnerable and exposed, knowing that he knew that I had complained and where I lived”. But when she spoke to the officer’s line manager, days after Couzens had pleaded guilty to kidnap and rape, there was little appreciation of why she might object to her details being shared. She was told that standard procedures had been followed. Those “procedures” have now been changed, but what I find chilling is not that errors like this could occur, but that no one at the Met had the empathy to think how a data breach like this would appear to a woman in the wake of a horrific murder committed by a police officer.

The independent review of the Met may yield further recommendations, but it seems doubtful that the force will ever be able to regain the trust of the citizens – in particular the women – of London whom it is meant to serve and protect.

Don’t call the doctor

The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has gone to war with GPs over his plan to guarantee face-to-face appointments. Doctors are accusing him of being “ignorant” of their needs, implying that 58 per cent of GP appointments now being held in person is good enough. (The pre-pandemic level was 80 per cent.)

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On one hand, this looks like a cynical ploy on the part of Javid to get his excuses in early when the health service comes under strain this winter – but he does have a point. Getting to see a GP face-to-face these days is harder than buying petrol. A friend of mine was refused an in-person appointment on the grounds that her GP wasn’t offering them at all. The appointment was for removing stitches. If the NHS is recommending patients take out their own post-surgical stitches via phone consultation, I’m on Javid’s side.

The return of high heels and sleeveless dresses

Last Saturday I attended my first wedding since the pandemic began – a Catholic extravaganza in the majestic city of York. We shivered our way into the church (bridesmaids as usual being required to wear sleeveless dresses in near-zero temperatures) and witnessed the joy of two people declaring their commitment to one another in front of their loved ones. On the list of things I’ve missed during Covid, I hadn’t thought weddings would score particularly highly. It’s just a party, after all. But there is something magical about sharing that moment of connection – in person, not on a screen. It’s even worth wearing high heels for. I’ve got six more weddings coming up in the next year – and I’m looking forward to every one.

[See also: Can Covid free us from the saccharine charade of wedding culture?]

This article appears in the 20 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Twilight of the West