Mothers and caregivers march in halloween fancy dress to highlight the terrifying cost of childcare in Britain. Image: Pregnant Then Screwed
Childcare is one of those things people never really think about until they have children themselves, and then they suddenly and sharply realise it’s in crisis.
Despite the UK being in desperate need of more people returning to work, many mothers are prevented from returning to their careers by increasingly high childcare costs. It’s contributing to the gender pay gap – which increased in 2021 – and preventing women from making the most of their talents in the workplace.
Without adequate funding from the government, nurseries are forced to pass costs on to parents who increasingly cannot afford them. Parents with the lowest incomes are having to spend three times as much on childcare as the richest, new research has found.
And even if they can afford it, long waiting lists mean that many parents simply can’t access childcare unless they plan it months in advance. Demand is so high, and the number of centres and places so low, that many parents are putting their children’s name on the waiting list before they’ve even been born.
Low wages are making childcare an unattractive career option for nursery staff and childminders, who are in seriously short supply, while energy costs are heaping more pressure on nurseries to charge astronomical fees.
So this weekend mothers across the UK are taking to the streets to demand the government acts urgently to fix the childcare crisis. Here’s why mummies will be marching on a street near you.
Who is behind the March of the Mummies?
Pregnant Then Screwed is behind the March of the Mummies protest. The campaign group is focused on raising awareness of, and lobbying the government to address, the discrimination faced by mothers and expectant mothers in the workplace. It was founded by Joeli Brearley in 2015, after she was sacked from her job by voicemail while four months pregnant. She was unable to pay the bills, her career and confidence hit rock-bottom, and her dire situation even put the health of her baby in jeopardy.
What are the Mummies demanding?
Pregnant Then Screwed has three demands:
Good quality affordable childcare for all children
The UK has the second most expensive childcare costs on the OECD group of 38 countries, and it’s preventing mothers from getting back to work or progressing in their careers. Pregnant Then Screwed found that parents are, on average, spending more on childcare costs than they are on housing. The expenditure on childcare is so high, that one in four parents say that they have had to cut down on food, heating or clothing to afford it.
They are calling on the government to increase investment in childcare services to make them affordable and accessible for any parent who wishes to return to work.
Flexible working as the default
Current flexible working rules state that an employee has to wait 26 weeks before making a request for flexible working. Once the request is made, it can be declined for not being in the interests of the business.
Flexible working can cover anything from working from home, job sharing, part time, compressed or staggered hours and flexitime, and is widely helpful for parents to balance looking after children with working hours.
Pregnant Then Screwed is calling for a duty on employers to list the flexible working options available in every job advert, and make it a right for any employee to take up those flexible working options from their first day on the job.
Properly paid parental leave for all parents
Statutory parental leave pay is currently at £156.66 per week – could you look after yourself and a child on that?
New fathers receive just two weeks of statutory paternity pay, with the number of fathers taking paternity leave falling each year since 2017. A new mother is entitled to 39 weeks of paid leave, six weeks paid at 90 per cent of salary and the rest paid at the statutory rate. This disparity forces mothers into the role of primary caregiver, denying many couples the choice when it comes to how to raise their child.
The campaigners are calling for all new parents, no matter their employment status, to be entitled to a minimum of six weeks paid leave at 90 per cent of their salary. Most urgently, they want current parental leave pay increased in line with inflation so that new parents do not fall into poverty during the cost of living crisis.
When and where will the March of the Mummies protests take place?
Protests are taking place in 11 locations across the UK: London, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Belfast, Cardiff, Exeter, Norwich, Bristol, Newcastle and Birmingham. You can find maps of where to meet on the Pregnant Then Screwed website.
Protesters will meet at 11am on Saturday October 29, just a couple of days before Halloween. Fancy dress is encouraged to highlight just how scary Britain’s childcare crisis truly is.
Pregnant Then Screwed have some great suggestions for what to write on a sign or banner if you’re stuck for ideas. Here are some of our favourites: