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Meet the mums calling for immediate reform of childcare and flexible working

"I had a baby, not a lobotomy, I can still do my work," said Clare, one of the many parents who are demanding more government support

Two mothers in witch costumes hold sign: 'The future won't raise itself'

In a spooky fashion, two mothers join March of the Mummies

Thousands of parents took to the streets over the weekend to demand affordable childcare and better flexible working options. 

In London, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Belfast, Cardiff, Exeter, Norwich, Bristol, Newcastle and Birmingham, parents and campaigners demanded government-led reform to better support parents in the workplace.

Organised by the charity Pregnant then Screwed, March of the Mummies was attended by over 15,000 parents and supporters across the UK. And they’re doing it in Halloween costumes, with punny signs, mummy-style bandages wrapped around their heads, all while pushing prams. 

The Big Issue went to the march that began at Trafalgar Square, central London, to hear why people had come out and what they would like to see happen next.

March of the Mummies sees thousands of protestors across the UK

Alesha, 32, North London 

“Maternity pay is awful. I’ve been working at my organisation for only a year when I found out I was pregnant so I didn’t qualify for any of the enhanced stuff. I got paid 100 per cent for six weeks, but then the rest of the time I was on £150 per week – which in London doesn’t even cut my rent – and which the Tories very kindly tax us on. I’m quite lucky, I had savings that should be going towards a house which I’m spending.

“When my daughter comes out of my care, I work full time and so does my partner, her nursery is going to cost us between £1500 and £1800 for four days a week.

“I want to see better maternity, better paternity pay, and flexible working so women can progress their careers and still work flexibly.”

She went on to say: “Otherwise you’re forcing women out of work, aren’t you? Because you’re basically saying, you can either have your job or look after your child? Well, you need both.”

Victoria Pickering, 34, Hertfordshire 

“As a manager you have to navigate something that is not work culture, you are having to introduce it as an individual for your own staff, rather than it being the culture of the organisation.

“I want to see flexible working become the default option rather than something you have to wait six months to put in an argument for. And more jobs advertising flexible work options because at the moment, the majority don’t and you have to negotiate that after the interview process. So why not put what’s available up front? 

“You discriminate by doing that – not just for women – but for anyone with a caring responsibility, or disability.”

Clare, 35, Stratford, London 

“I have a 15-month-old daughter and I’ve seen the inequality of having a child and going back to work.

“I worked in quite a male dominated workplace and I feel when I had a baby, I was treated differently. When I came back to the workplace, I was given a reduced schedule. I had a baby, not a lobotomy, I can still do my work.

“I think childcare is just a microcosm of what’s happening in the whole world and the inequality we are seeing with the government. I feel like the pandemic and the cost of living crisis have really exasperated this issue for women and working families.

“I’d like to see more affordable childcare. Because childcare in London is quite pricey. I’d like to see everyone have the right to it and access to it.”

“I want Mr. Sunak to think about his policies. In the pandemic, he thanked mothers for doing a good job of juggling, but he didn’t really put any more money towards it. So he needs to put his money where his mouth is basically,’ says Clare

Tracey Richardson, 43, Hampshire

“I was a solo working mum full time having childcare costs and the struggle was very, very real. There were some weeks where it was £20 for food.

“It is mainly a female issue, obviously, because society still expects the woman to raise the child, especially in those infancy years where childcare costs are astronomical.

“It’s a very difficult change for businesses to effect and it seems a bit unfair. So that’s why you turn to the government and ask them to effect a huge policy change.

“Imagine if you gave this generation the opportunity to actually continue with their career, then we’d see women succeed in their careers. And we all understand that if you see someone else doing it, it’s much more attainable, aspirational and much more achievable for them. So by doing it for this generation, it impacts squarely down the line.”

“It’s having women still in the economy still contributing to the economy. So that’s why I chose this protest sign. I made it last night with a glass of wine,” says Tracey (left).

Valeria Bullo, 45, Walthamstow, London 

“I’m here representing Cinemamas, we are a peer support group of women, predominantly mothers working in the film industry. Childcare is completely inaccessible for most of us, a lot of us have to leave the industry, because we can’t sort of manage to have either flexible working or decent childcare or most of our salary goes on that 

“It was all about supporting better mental health, imposter syndrome, the culture of fear, how to speak up, how to go back and kind of have a, I guess, wish list workwise, [of] what you’re not willing to put up with

“There is a huge talent drain of women that are forced to leave the industry. I personally felt pushed out of the industry.”

“I’d like to see flexible working as a number one priority, and also, for childcare providers to be paid proper wages and proper salaries because they are the architects of our children’s minds.”

“I’m here with my daughter, because I can’t leave her with anyone. I can’t afford childcare today. Most of my salary goes on childcare to be able to enable me to go to work to pay for the childcare,” says Valeria (right).

Adele Annett, 41, Surrey 

“When I had my daughter six years ago, we had to make some really difficult choices because childcare costs were £90 a day, and we simply it just didn’t make financial sense for me to go back to work and pay even more than my salary out in childcare costs.

“There’s still income inequality between men and women so usually it’s the women and the mothers that are earning less in the relationship, so it’s the woman then, economically, who has to take a backseat and stay at home to look after the children.

“We’re living in a society where two-income families are really needed, because they can’t afford mortgage payments, gas bills and things like that. So it’s all just snowballing to a point where people aren’t going to be able to afford to have children anymore. Only the wealthy can have children. 

“I’ve got a daughter and I want her to be able to grow up in a society where she can have the choice.”
Following the march, Joeli Brearley, CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed, told The Big Issue: “We have written to the new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to ask for a meeting so that we can tell him the many stories we hear from women and talk with him about what he can do to support them.

“We will be following this weekend of protest with a series of meetings in which we hope to directly engage the minister for education and the minister for business in practical policy discussion. Pregnant then Screwed is seven years old and we get stronger and more experienced every year. We are in this for the long haul.”

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