More than 15,000 people are expected to take to the streets across the UK calling for government reforms to a childcare and parental leave structure that critics describe as dangerous and devastating.
Saturday’s March of the Mummies, organised by the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, is expected to bring out thousands of parents and children across 11 cities, with the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the actor Sarah Solemani and the Labour MP Stella Creasy among those expected to attend.
“Our needs are being completely ignored and we are being set up to fail,” said Joeli Brearly, who founded the organisation in 2015 after being sacked by her employer over voicemail, a day after notifying them of her pregnancy. “It’s impossible for most families to survive without two incomes. Yet we’ve created an environment that prevents many mothers from working, or working the number of hours that they want to work.”
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The Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson said she was joining the march to tell ministers that no one should be pushed into poverty for deciding to start a family. “Working families are being ignored by this government as childcare costs soar and parents struggle to balance work and home life,” she said.
In 2015, a survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that while 84% of employers believed supporting pregnant workers and maternity leave to be in the interest of their organisation, 77% of mothers said they had experienced negative and possibility discriminatory experiences during their pregnancy, while on maternity leave or upon their return to work.
The UK’s childcare costs rank among the most expensive in the world. Pregnant Then Screwed is calling for reforms to the sector, increased financial support for new parents and for all work to be flexible by default.
According to the organisation, 48% of pregnant mothers will have to cut their maternity leave short owing to financial hardship, and 60% of women who had an abortion in the past five years said childcare costs had been a factor in their decision.
“We are seeing a big increase in women leaving the workforce to care for families because the whole structure is failing them,” said Brearly, who will be among thousands marching from London’s Trafalgar Square to Whitehall.
The Metropolitan police have reversed a decision not to police the event after the threat of legal action.
For Brearly and others protesting, the decision for the government is an economic one. “We’re talking directly here to Rishi Sunak. We are here to remind him that investing in families is vital right now,” Brearly said. “You invest in the economy by investing in childcare.”
For actor and writer Solemani, the march is about demanding a shift in the way we approach motherhood in our culture.
“We need to reorient ourselves on the roadmap of humanity, because we know that we all start from the same place, which is that our success, our ability to thrive and be healthy, is dependent on the financial, emotional and psychological wellbeing of our mothers,” said Solemani, who is flying to the UK to attend.
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“The domestic economy is not recognised, you know, in the financial index. It’s an unwaged labour but it’s a necessary labour, the world will collapse if we went on strike,” she added. “We need to invest in our culture, we need to see proper change instead of going in the direction they are.”
Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality party, said the government should appoint a permanent cabinet minister dedicated to childcare. “We are in a situation where the system isn’t working for anyone,” said Reid, who plans to attend Saturday’s march. “It’s not working for children, it’s not working for childcare workers, it’s not working for men, for goodness sake. It’s not even working for those who don’t have kids.”
Reid was 33 when she was faced with an unplanned pregnancy. After calculating the cost of continuing work while raising a child with the parental leave offered, the numbers did not add up, she said, and she terminated the pregnancy.
Had there been free universal childcare and proper shared parental leave, Reid said, she could have made a different choice. It is a calculation that she says is now being further complicated for many by the cost of living crisis. She said childcare was central to solving that problem.
“Childcare is one of those investments; it’s actually about and for all of us,” she said. “Everyone was a child. Most adults have children. Everybody benefits when our economy is in better shape.”