THE true cost of Southampton’s ongoing problem with teenage pregnancy runs to more than £4m a year the Daily Echo can reveal.

Latest figures show that for every teenage parent in the city it costs the tax- payer an estimated £15,000 a year in benefits and housing, amongst other costs.

In 2012 there were 129 teenage pregnancies, making 258 new parents – costing the city just under £4m for just these new mums and dads.

And with Southampton’s teenage pregnancy rates persisting to be some of the highest in the country council bosses have vowed to make the issue, which has plagued Southampton for so long, a top priority.

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Teenage pregnancy is well-known problem in Southampton

To achieve that aim a new task force has been launched by Southampton City Council, which is currently drawing up an action plan to slash rates and bring the city back in line with its statistical neighbours.

Problem hotspots The drive to reduce teenage pregnancy comes after city health bosses admitted that there had been “a significant reduction” in leadership on the issue as a result of a lack of focus nationally.

But they are determined to turn that around and ensure that progress made over the last decade to reduce conception rates for under-18s is maintained and more importantly built upon in Southampton.

Latest figures reveal that Freemantle, Woolston, Redbridge, Millbrook and Bitterne are problem hotspots for the citywith under-18 conception rates “significantly higher” than the England average.

Those in charge admit that the rate of decline has been slower than others areas similar to Southampton.

A report to Southampton City Council’s health and wellbeing board reveals there were 129 teenage pregnancies in Southampton during 2012, 24 of which were under the age of 16 – equating to 34.3 conceptions per 1,000 females aged 15 to 17.

Although this rate has declined steadily over the last decade it remains much higher than the rate in the south east, which stands at 23.2 per 1,000, and England, which has a rate of 27.7 per 1,000.

The under-16 conception rate in the city between 2010 and 2012 of 8.5 per 1,000 females aged between 13 and 15 is also higher compared to the south east rate of five for every 1,000 girls and the rate for England, which stands at 6.1 per 1,000 girls.

Work on the action plan is underway and will be looking at a range of different ways to attack the problem, including targeted work with those young people at particular risk, ensuring availability of effective contraception to all sexually active young people and appointing local “champions” within the health service to lead on the issue.

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Heading up the taskforce is Councillor Mark Chaloner, who has been appointed as the “champion” for tackling teenage pregnancy and he hopes to see new innovative methods brought in to achieve their goal.

He said: “Teenage pregnancy has fallen off the national agenda and that’s not right.

“We think it is time to turn round and get back on the case to try and reduce these rates in Southampton.

“I am excited about this and I am hopeful that we can try and make a difference. It will be slow and difficult as we do, in Southampton, have a sustained problem but with a sustained focus I hope we can make a difference.

“We haven’t drawn up the action plan yet but we want it to be as innovative as possible and we will be looking across the country to see what has worked for others, as well as looking to build an inter-agency approach.

“I would like to see our rates to be similar to comparative authorities, initially, as it is always going to be a struggle with the national average because we are an urban area with our own particular problems.

“But I would like at the very least to be in line with areas similar to Southampton. That is an achievable aim. I can’t say when but it is achievable.”

He added that he hoped the action plan would be completed within the next three to six months.