‘I want to work’: why UK parents are taking part in March of the Mummies

Credit cards USA

More than 12,000 families plan to take to the streets on Saturday in 11 UK cities to call on the government to provide affordable childcare and flexible working and improve parental leave. The campaign’s organisers Pregnant Then Screwed expect 6,000 people to take part in the Halloween-themed March of the Mummies in London.

Three parents explain why they are participating and how the issue of childcare has affected them.

‘I regularly borrow money from friends’

When Rebecca Lester, 40, a doctor in Liverpool, was offered a “dream job” in London, she had to think twice about whether she could afford to take the position. Despite being on a “decent” salary, Lester, a single parent, struggles to afford childcare costs. “I have to borrow money from friends regularly,” she says.

Lester is worried about the financial implications of the move to London. “When I started looking at the reality of the situation, I started to panic. Imagine being a consultant in hospital medicine with over 15 years of training and not being able to afford childcare costs. You get nothing for being a single parent who is a moderate earner – I have to pay the same costs as a two-parent, high-earning family. There are people in much worst positions – my salary is decent, but one salary is not enough with childcare costs that aren’t reduced.”

On top of the £1,400 a month for a full-time nursery place, before tax-free childcare calculations, Lester pays about £400 a month in babysitter fees for any extra hours she works outside the nursery’s 8am to 6pm weekday hours.

  Warning over spate of UK house fires as residents try to cut energy bills

She says childcare costs for her two-year-old son are double the cost of her mortgage. “Nursery fees have gone up twice since he started in June 2021. Obviously they have to cover their costs, I don’t blame the nurseries. They have such a difficult job and they have to pay staff.”

‘I felt forced into making this choice’

View image in fullscreenLeonora Catherall and her daughter, Lyra. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Leonora Catherall, 31, did not expect to quit the job she loved after her daughter was born in 2018. “I was brought up by a real battleaxe feminist – when I imagined my own life as a mother, I assumed that of course I could go back to work and have it all as a parent,” she says.

Credit USA

But then she calculated that after childcare, commuting, and food costs, she would only make about £100 a month, as her take-home pay at the London-based charity where she worked was about £1,300. “All to give my child to other people to look after full time,” she says.

Although she was passionate about her job, the slim margins pushed her to become a stay-at-home parent: “The trade-off was really difficult – I felt forced into making this choice.”

Loneliness is a struggle for new parents – can we all stop pretending everything’s ok? | Rhiannon Lucy CosslettRead more

Her daughter started preschool in September, and Catherall hoped she would be able to work in the afternoons. “I thought I’d be able to do something economically advantageous in those hours, but there’s not enough flexible, remote-working opportunities,” she says. Her daughter begins school next year and she is planning to retrain as a teacher, in large part to align her hours more closely to her child’s.

  Insurers told to stop shortchanging UK drivers by undervaluing write-offs

Catherall hopes the march will impress upon the government the severity of the situation. “Above all else, we are asking the government take it seriously. They have to have a reality check and an attitude change.”

‘We want to contribute to the economy’

Lauren, 34, a communications professional, is taking part in the Leeds march to demand better government investment in childcare. “My concern is that the government will say, everything is expensive now – but it’s not newly expensive, it’s just getting worse. I really hope they take a look at other models used around the world,” she says.

“You have to be earning a huge amount for childcare not to be unaffordable. We have a joint income of almost £80,000 and it’s stretching us – I have no idea how those earning less manage.”

She would like to have a second child but is being held back by childcare costs. “It’s unlikely we will be able to afford to do that until our daughter is at least receiving the 30 free hours [of childcare for three- to four-year-olds living in England]. By that time, I will be 37 and not comfortable having a child at that age as we already lost a baby at 14 weeks.”

Lauren, who pays about £880 monthly for three days of nursery a week, emphasises the economic implications the shortfall of affordable childcare is having on parents. “The government makes it as difficult as possible for young families to work. We want to work, we want to continue building our careers and contributing to the economy,” she says, adding: “No one but the highest earners can comfortably afford childcare, especially on top of the cost of living crisis now.”

Leave a Reply