'What's the alternative, let kids' teeth rot?' Streeting blasts 'nanny state' critics over Labour's toothbrush training

11 January 2024, 14:26 | Updated: 11 January 2024, 16:34

WS_'What's the Alternative'

By Will Taylor

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has hit back at critics of Labour's proposed toothbrush training for children - and asked if he should just allow their teeth to rot.

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Labour plans to provide dental hygiene tutorials to young children during primary school breakfast clubs.

But he was asked about the plans during a phone-in with LBC's Shelagh Fogarty, as one listener questioned if it was just enabling poor parenting.

"What's the alternative? Do we say because parents aren't fulfilling their responsibilities, we're just going to let kids' teeth rot?" Mr Streeting fired back.

"And we're going to end up continuing with the situation we see today, where tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admission among kids aged between six and 10.

"I don't think we should just sit back and accept that, because it's bad for children and their health but it's also expensive for the NHS.

"We can't be doing with throwing taxpayers' money paying the price of failure when for a fraction of the cost we can keep kids' teeth clean and keep them out of hospital."

Sir Keir Starmer had earlier vowed to fight critics who say he's too "nanny state" as he launched Labour's child health crackdown.

Read more: 'I'm up for the fight': Starmer vows to fight critics over 'nanny state' toothbrushing in schools and vape crackdown

Wes Streeting said children needed help with brushing their teeth - as too many are suffering rot
Wes Streeting said children needed help with brushing their teeth - as too many are suffering rot. Picture: Alamy

He insisted that it was the job of government to intervene in families because the health of the nation – and taxpayer’s cash – was at stake.

Alongside bringing in a 9pm watershed for junk food advertising and a ban vapes being advertised to kids, Labour will introduce a supervised toothbrushing programme for younger kids.

That would take place during breakfast clubs in primary school.

Ahead of a visit to Manchester to flesh out his health mission, Sir Keir said: "We want to encourage good parenting, but I don't think we can just turn our back on this.

"One of the proposals we put out there was supervised tooth brushing for three to five-year-olds, and lots of people say 'oh that's nanny state'.

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"When I first read the statistic that for 6-10 year olds the biggest cause of admissions to hospital is decayed teeth, I was really struck, that is shocking.

"I don't think you can simply say 'well that's none of our business' - it is our business because it's the health of the child, but also once you've got a child admitted to hospital, it's costing the taxpayer a fortune.

"I'm not saying it's the state and not parents, it's got to be both. I'm up for that fight if people want to say to me "well I don't think you should be doing that, just let it happen'.

"We need to take on this question of the nanny state. The moment you do anything on children’s health, people say 'you're going down the road of a nanny state'. We want to have that fight."

Fresh Labour stats show that British kids are not growing as tall as before, are fatter than many other nations, and less happy too.

OECD data shows the height of the average British five-year-old girl has fallen by 27 places in international rankings over the last three decades, with the average British five-year-old boy falling by 33 places on the height league table.

And the UK is estimated to have more obese children than France, Germany, Poland and Slovenia.