POPE Francis recently addressed the low birth rate in Italy, a phenomenon echoed in many countries right now – including the UK.

Headlines such as “Pope tells young Italians to stop being 'selfish' and 'egotistical' and have more children instead of pets”, while obviously useful as a snappy and controversial nugget of rage-bait that neatly shifts the blame onto those pesky young people, neglected to highlight the more illuminating part of the discussion which centred around the ways in which the Pope believes that an extreme reliance on capitalism is having an inevitably adverse effect on the birth rate.

It seems that, ironically, the more people's lives are geared towards production, the fewer babies will be produced. It makes sense from a purely practical standpoint: if you create a society in which people do not feel happy, comfortable and safe, they might not want to bring children into that environment.

Not having children for financial reasons is often looked upon as selfish or money-oriented, however for many people, the opposite is true.

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A lack of affordable childcare coupled with the poor pay and conditions within a whole host of sectors means that for many people, it is not financially viable or logistically possible to afford to look after children properly, and to give them an adequate standard of care or quality of life.

Sky news recently ran a segment about the growing numbers of parents stealing baby formula for their kids in a desperate attempt to keep them fed, and reports that the price of the absolute cheapest option when it comes to bottle feeding children has risen 45% in two years.

A baby isn't just an extra mouth to feed, it’s a whole little life to be completely responsible for, with needs and wants that can be incredibly expensive.

According to the UK Government’s website, after the first six weeks of statutory maternity pay (for which your employer is obligated to pay you 90% of your wage before tax), you will then receive "£172.48 per week (for 2023/24) or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less)".

Though 10% might not seem like a huge loss, this reduction in earnings, combined with the enormous expenditure of a new baby, makes family planning just as much of a financial decision as a personal one.

With budgets stretched and many people not owning the house in which they live, any reduction in earning ability or income has the potential to tip an already precarious financial situation over the edge.

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A Tory MP at the National Conservatism Conference recently blamed "cultural Marxism and excessive education" for the low birth rate, saying it strips young people of hope and "destroys their souls".

As a young person myself I'd be inclined to agree with the lack of hope and the destroyed soul, but I'd attribute it less to ludicrous right-wing conspiracy theories and more to the fact that, due in part to relentless UK governmental inadequacy, most of my peers will probably never be able to own their own house, or spend a waking moment not constantly worrying about how to heat their home, or will have to strike and battle for their wages to reflect the value of their labour.

To hear an MP say, “Spending so much time and money on education also makes it much more difficult, particularly for women, to decide when is a good time to pause and have children,” really doesn’t sit right with me.

People can, and do, pursue higher education before and after becoming parents, and doing so should not be seen as something which is antithetical to parenthood.

It seems counterintuitive for any allegedly forward-thinking society to argue against a robust and accessible tertiary education system for women, especially by someone whose alma mater is Cambridge University, has two degrees, and multiple children.

If the low birth rate is truly a great existential threat, the Scottish and UK governments need to do a lot more to ensure their constituencies are conducive to the having and raising of happy, healthy kids.

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The irony of many nations currently panicking about their low birth rate and ageing population is that, oftentimes they are the same countries which heavily restrict, reject or resent immigration, something which has been demonstrated to present an invaluable boost to both the workforce, culture and society of the country where it occurs.

An ageing population presents a challenge when an underfunded care and health sectors are haemorrhaging workers it cannot replace. If we do not ensure that our job market adequately caters to the needs of its workers, those who require additional care and support as they age will struggle to find people to fill those essential roles.

It’s also important to keep in mind that some people just don't want kids and never will. When people ask me about my future, a lot of the time the conversations will inevitably focus not on if, but on when I'll have children, with the expectation being that I can, and want to (both quite risky assumptions).

Infertility, mental and physical illness, or a whole host of other reasons might preclude someone from being willing and able to have or raise children, and these might be helpful to take into account before asking invasive questions.

Pregnancy is increasingly becoming more of a choice for many people; more accessible birth control, growingly comprehensive sex education and the legalisation of abortion increase the level of control that a lot of people have when it comes to reproduction.

Someone might find fulfilment in their career, their hobbies, their friends, family and community. You don't have to be a parent to have an impactful and meaningful presence in the lives of others, and many people simply can't, or just don't want to have their own kids.

This isn't selfish, it's not unnatural or weird, and it is far preferable that more kids these days come from careful and responsible planning and are actually wanted by their parents The best and most realistic way to increase the birth rate is to make a country one within which people might want to, first of all, live, then raise a family.

The priority should not be on the number of children born, but the quality of life for each child and their family.

We should strive to make the country we live in safer, more enjoyable and happier for the people currently living in it, and put in place provisions and legislation to make our planet liveable for the generations yet to come.