FSRH statement: ONS releases 2021 annual conception figures for women in England and Wales

Posted 30 March 2023

Date: 30 Mar 2023

Type: FSRH Press Releases and Statements

New Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2021 figures on conception rates for women in England and Wales show an overall increase in the number of conceptions in England and Wales for the first time in six years. The statistics also show an increase in teenage pregnancies after a long-term period of decline, the conception rate for women over the age of 40 has continued to rise and the number of conception leading to an abortion has also risen.

The under-18 conception rate for England and Wales in 2021 was 13.2 conceptions per 1,000. This is an increase of 0.1% since 2020.

Over a quarter of conceptions in England and Wales in 2021 led to an abortion, increasing from 25.3% in 2020 to 26.5% in 2021.

The percentage of conceptions leading to an abortion increased in all age categories apart over 40, which saw a decrease from 34.1% 2020 to 33.2% in 2021.

Dr Janet Barter, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said:

"We welcome the annual conception figures released today by the Office for National Statistics."

“After seeing a decline in the under-18 conception rate for many years, it is concerning to see even a small increase in conceptions in this age range. We cannot be complacent, and we must undertake a thorough post-COVID review of what young people need to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.”

“The figures released today by ONS also show an increase in the number of conceptions leading to an abortion. We must look closely at the reasons for this. Recent statistics released by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) show that although demand for Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) is increasing, provision has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“Last year, the Government published the Women’s Health Strategy, which highlights the crucial role of contraception in high quality reproductive health and states that further plans on sexual and reproductive health would be set out by the Government later in 2022. This is further to the Government committing to publish a Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy in 2019, in response to the Health and Social Care Committee’s report on Sexual Health. To date, no such plan has been published despite ongoing calls from across the SRH community.

“It is crucial that everyone in need of contraception can access comprehensive care wherever they choose to. We call on the Government to take urgent action to address these barriers. Last year, we launched the FSRH Hatfield Vision, a framework to improve reproductive health outcomes, with clear actions which when implemented will drastically improve access to contraception for all women.”
Alison Hadley OBE, Director of the Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange, said:

“The small increase in England’s under-18 conception rate, the first in 14 years, is a stark caution against complacency and a timely prompt to redouble our efforts to ensure all young people have the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate healthy relationships and prevent unplanned pregnancy. That means effective implementation of high-quality relationships and sex education (RSE) in schools, open conversations at home, and providing easy access to youth friendly contraceptive services. Yet although RSE is mandatory in all schools, the Sex Education Forum 2022 Poll of 16- & 17-year-olds found only 40% reported their RSE as good or very good, nearly 1 in 10 didn’t learn anything at all about condoms or contraception from their school RSE, and 56% had learnt not enough or nothing about how to access local sexual health services, despite this being a requirement of the statutory guidance. As one young person in the Poll noted, ‘Schools should definitely improve on teaching “accessing sexual health services”- this is a very easy thing to teach and doesn’t take much time’.

“Critical too is addressing any impacts left from the pandemic. For example, ensuring the young people who missed out on RSE at school during Covid lockdowns – almost half (49%) in the SEF 2021 Poll - are provided with information and support; proactively publicising the details of services as they return to face to face as well as digital provision; and working with statutory and voluntary sector agencies to provide targeted RSE and links to services for young people most at risk, particularly the increased number of teenagers who have not returned to education. Although there has been a hugely significant 72% reduction in rates since 1998, inequalities persist at regional, local, and individual level. Reversing the rising trend in the wider determinants of early pregnancy and poor outcomes – notably family poverty, school exclusion and poor attainment – will be key to providing equity of choice and opportunity for all young people.”



For further information, please contact: Lorna Kelly, External Affairs Manager, at lkelly@fsrh.org

Notes to Editors

The 2021 data can be found here

About FSRH

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) is the leader in the field of sexual and reproductive healthcare, and we are the voice for professionals working in this area. As a multi-disciplinary professional membership organisation, we set clinical guidance and standards, provide training and lifelong education, and champion safe and effective sexual and reproductive healthcare across the life course for all.