The Standard Fertility Survey: 'fertility is now a complex web of financial calculations and emotional stress'

 (Michelle Kennedy / Peanut)
(Michelle Kennedy / Peanut)

As the founder and CEO of Peanut, a platform dedicated to supporting women through the journey of motherhood, I have witnessed firsthand the profound impact of the cost of living crisis on women in the UK. The impact on women's access to fertility treatment and, by extension, their choices about whether or not to have children, is a pressing issue that demands our attention and action.

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) provides fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproductive technologies, but accessing them is far from straightforward. Eligibility criteria and long waiting lists can create disparities in access to care based on geographic location and financial circumstances. Women often describe it as a postcode lottery. But why should your postcode dictate your chance in starting a family? It's a matter of basic fairness. Every woman deserves the chance to build the family they dream of.

While private clinics offer quicker access to treatment, they come with hefty price tags compared to publicly funded NHS options. The high costs of these treatments, encompassing consultations, medications, and procedures, are incredibly overwhelming.

The financial strain stemming from the cost of living crisis intensifies the emotional stress already associated with fertility challenges

For many women and couples, the cost of treatment, coupled with limited NHS availability, is simply prohibitive, especially when they are already grappling with the soaring costs of living, including housing, utilities, and everyday expenses. They face long delays or even the abandonment of their fertility plans altogether.

The reality is, costly fertility treatments, while crucial to those seeking to conceive outside of the NHS, are taking a backseat. A significant 48 per cent of women from Peanut’s community identify financial concerns as the primary factor preventing them from having children or expanding their families. Women are delaying starting a family or foregoing treatment because they must allocate their limited resources to more immediate needs. With many living paycheck to paycheck, there’s little room for saving.

This should sound alarm bells for policymakers, healthcare providers, and society as a whole. It's unacceptable that financial circumstances (or even postcodes!) are robbing women of their reproductive choices.

The financial strain stemming from the cost of living crisis intensifies the emotional stress already associated with fertility challenges. The challenge to conceive, coupled with concerns about the cost of treatment and raising a family, have a detrimental effect on women's mental and emotional well-being. 36 per cent of women feel responsible for carrying the burden of fertility worries, and 47 per cent report that these worries are negatively impacting their relationships. It's not just a personal issue; it's a societal one.

Research from our Invisible Mothers campaign reveals how questions about women's reproductive choices are adding to this pressure. Women constantly face intrusive questions about family planning and fertility issues, reinforcing cultural biases that place the responsibility for creating a family squarely on their shoulders.

Michelle Kennedy:

"When are you having a baby?" rather than "Do you want a family?" or "Are you and your partner able to conceive?" This relentless pressure makes it even more challenging to navigate fertility in a society that often overlooks the complexities and financial strains of reproductive choices. Friends, family, colleagues and even strangers tend to assume that women can effortlessly have children; rarely do they consider the hurdles they have to face behind the scenes.

With 89 per cent of respondents to the Standard-Peanut fertility survey admitting to worrying about their fertility, and 91 per cent believing that the NHS should offer fertility testing to everyone, it’s abundantly clear that fertility concerns are on the minds of many women, and they are eager for support and solutions.

The cost of living crisis in the UK coupled with NHS barriers has turned the dream of parenthood into an unattainable goal for many. What was once a straightforward decision has now become a complex web of financial calculations and emotional stress. It's no longer a matter of tightening belts; it feels like an impossible obstacle.

So here we are, at a turning point - women want and need solutions.

Our community wants to see enhanced parental leave, recognising that this is not just about spending time with your family; it's crucial a financial lifeline for families during those important early parenting stages. Women also want more accessible childcare through government-subsidized initiatives to help alleviate financial concern.

Michelle Kennedy:
Michelle Kennedy: "Many families are battling with the added stress of soaring rent costs or an elusive property ladder" (Michelle Kennedy / Peanut)

Many families are battling with the added stress of soaring rent costs or an elusive property ladder. Affordable rent controls, shared ownership schemes, and increased investment in social housing projects could free up much-needed resources for those pursuing fertility treatments or looking to start a family.

Without this, the expectations placed on women to contribute to the economy at levels never seen before can feel like an impossible ceiling. After all, if we cannot afford childcare, how can we fully participate and contribute to the workforce? This can have long-term economic consequences, affecting our pension savings and overall financial standing. On a broader societal level, it can lead to skill gaps and a depletion of talent as women are held back from reaching their full potential in the workforce.

Policymakers and society at large must recognise that this crisis is casting a significant shadow over women's reproductive choices. It's not merely about affording a family; it's about securing the basic necessities of life.

The cost of living crisis should not be a barrier to parenthood, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that it isn't. This struggle, which often feels invisible to UK policymakers and society, needs urgent attention.