The Birmingham rally was one of 11 simultaneous protests in cities across the UK. Participants were invited to don Halloween costumes to introduce a fun and family feel, while making three key demands: good quality, affordable childcare for all children; properly paid parental leave for all parents; and flexible working as the default for all jobs.
The rallies were organised by Pregnant then Screwed, founded in 2015 by Joeli Brealy after being sacked by voicemail two days after telling her employer she was pregnant. The project aims to “end the motherhood penalty so that pregnant women and mothers have equal access to the labour market”.
Enthusiastically compered by local radio DJ Gemma Hill, families and allies heard a range of speakers giving their unique perspectives on the state of childcare and family friendly provision in the UK.
The personal, emotional and practical impact… and some statistics
Mum of two Kate Lloyd left her job in PR after taking a 20% pay cut due to reducing her hours, to allow more time for childcare. She now coaches parents through the changes parenthood brings to their lives and their careers.
Kate outlined the failings in the current system:
- The UK has 3rd lowest maternity pay in Europe and the least generous paternity leave
- We have the second highest childcare costs in developed world
- Full-time nursery for a child under two costs on average two thirds of weekly take home pay
- Women have 45% lower earnings in the six years after giving birth
- 1 in 9 pregnant women lose their jobs
- The number of women aged 25-34 leaving work has increased by 12.6% in the last year.
Kate cited a US study showing a 10% increase in women working lead to a 5% increase in wages for everyone. Another study showed that if we could get the same percentage of women into the workforce as in Sweden it would deliver a 9% boost in GDP. Solutions “need to recognise the added benefit of more women in the workforce” through flexible working, affordable childcare and shared parental leave.
Priya Chauhan told us how “Nothing in this world prepared me for feeling absolutely worthless and irrelevant when I became a mother”. She had worked hard and had a great career. On discovering she was pregnant her first thought, having seen other women in the workplace being sidelined, was “how am I going to tell work?”
“Having a baby felt like some form of punishment”, she continued. There is a “systemic belief that women are incompetent as soon as they are carrying a child and become a mother”. This system pushes mothers out of work. “Extortionate child care” then continues to price them out of jobs.
Priya gave two stark statistics: 1 in 5 women develop mental illness during pregnancy or the first year after birth, and suicide is a leading cause of maternal death in the UK in the year after child birth. “We have to change things now”, she concluded, so mothers know “we are not worthless, we are not irrelevant, we have purpose outside of parenthood and we will be heard”.
Fiona Small founder of the Young Mothers Network, stressed the importance of childcare as an issue for everyone: “When we talk about childcare, we are talking about the future generation. We are safeguarding the future”.
Dads need change too
Jeszemma Howl from the Fatherhood Institute, was at the rally “supporting the rights of fathers to spend time with their children.” Dads like mums, she said, need higher quality affordable childcare, to take time out of work to look after their babies, and the opportunity to work flexibly around childcare. But, when childcare “costs almost as much as our houses, fathers are sent back to work early and refused flexible working… it can certainly feel like we are screwed from all angles”.
Jeszemma told us that in Sweden, for every month a man takes off to look after his baby the mother has her pay increased by 7%. But in the UK, parental leave is one of most gender unequal in the world.
After two weeks of paternity leave, parental responsibility returns solely to the mother. “We will not address the gender pay gap until we start getting fathers into the home and mothers into the workplace”. Furthermore, parity would mean recruiters don’t know which out of a female and male candidate will “request the flexible working, take the leave, or take the phone call from the school when the baby is ill.”
Jeszemma movingly described how 40 years ago her mother marched with her for gender equality. For her daughters attending the rally: “I can only hope in 20 years time they are not still saying the same darn thing”.
Political activist and anti-Brexit campaigner Femi Oluwole joked that he was “here to impart the wisdom of a childless man who saw Rugrats a few years ago”, before echoing the points made by Jeszemma: “until we balance out maternity and paternity we can’t close the gender pay gap… if women are constantly forced out of the workplace to take care of their children that means that men get to spend less time with their children. If men get to spend less time with their children, that damages women’s ability to continue with their careers.”
What would Labour do?
Steve McCabe MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, said an incoming Labour government would inherit “a hell of an economy… one godawful hell of a mess”, so he couldn’t promise the moon. McCabe continued that a Labour government would “as a downpayment”, introduce breakfast clubs for all primary school children, put in place paid 12 months maternity provision, and change the law so it’s not possible to sack a woman or make a woman redundant while she is pregnant.
The rally concluded with a rousing singalong performance by the SHE choir Birmingham of Working to Pay, a song specially penned for March of the Mummies by Beccy Owen, and some good old fashioned call-and-response chanting:
“What do we want?” … “Childcare investment”
“When do we want it” … “Now!”
“Childcare” … “Chaos!”
“Pregnant” … “Screwed!”