I’ve spoken to many people about the cost of childcare. Most agree it is unmanageable and unjust – but there is also an air of apathy, because what can we do about it? And then there are those who liken growing, birthing and raising a child to buying a Ferrari (a real response I had on Twitter) and argue I shouldn’t have had a child if I couldn’t afford it. I would argue in return that a luxury sports car and a human being are very different things and consequently should have very different rights.
Another common response is that no one can ever afford children, just have them anyway – because my parents did and look at me, I ran five miles and forged a river just to get to school, no central heating, an outside loo and I was lucky if I had a slice of bread for tea.
I think what is most frightening about these responses is that all agree, indirectly, that to have children and a comfortable financial life is mainly only possible for the wealthy. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world and yet we repeatedly fail to support average families, and in particular, women.
March of the Mummies
There are those who speak out in support of mothers. Pregnant Then Screwed is a charity that champions the rights of parents at every opportunity. It campaigns tirelessly for free and flexible childcare, to give parents the choice to remain in the workforce or stay at home with their young children, to stop discrimination in the workplace, support flexible working hours and improve maternity and paternity leave conditions.
In Birmingham, the march was cancelled due to the Christmas market installations, but a rally was held instead in bustling Edgbaston Street in the heart of the city. It was a family event and some took the opportunity to dress in Halloween costume. Sticky hands, face paint and baby slings were as much a part of the day as the angry parents who just wanted to be heard.
The rally was led by Gemma Hill of Heart Radio and speakers included Fiona Smalls, The Fatherhood Institute, Priya Chauhana, Kate Lloyd, Femi Oluwole and Steve McCabe, the MP for Birmingham Selly Oak and shadow minister for children and families. All the speakers are either parents of young children or stand solidly with parents and the struggle of affording childcare.
We heard about personal struggles of flexible working, of fighting for careers and of trying to find ourselves amongst the nappies, sleep deprivation, endless crying and the milk; let alone surviving on less then minimum wage statutory maternity pay, a paternity leave that is little more than a glorified long weekend and, of course, the crippling cost of childcare.
The speeches were boosted by angry murmurs and cheers from the crowd. The incredible signs and slogans that people put together perfectly reflected the anger and exasperation with the current system.
Images by Liv Turner. Used with permission.
This is what the fight is for
I attended the rally with two friends. We all gave birth for the first time in August 2021 and have shared parts of our maternity leave together. All three of us were faced with the very real dilemma of how we manage childcare and a career – something that we have all worked hard for. Amy reduced her hours at work, partly to save the cost of childcare so that she can afford to live but also because she wants time with her young daughter that she won’t get back.
This is what the fight is for. Parents should be able to choose to spend time caring for their children without risking falling into poverty. Equally, they should be able to choose to go to work and forge their careers, without risking falling into poverty.
Amy said, “I feel trapped in an endless cycle of doom, whereby there’s not really much point in me working more because of the cost of childcare. And then the fact that financially we as a family need that £300 I do have left over to cover food, clothes, utilities and petrol. I’ve taken a second job doing one night a week at weekends just to cover our costs”.
One of the highest in the world
The cost of UK childcare is currently one of the highest in the world, according to recent research by the BITC. On average, a full-time nursery place for a child under the age of two costs over half of an adult’s weekly wage.
As the cost-of-living crisis deepen, families will not only have to choose between heat and food but also whether they can even afford to work. When short-lived prime minister Liz Truss talked about growth, she failed to recognise that the UK has been holding back its economy for decades, by ensuring that the workforce remains closed to tens of thousands of women. Furthermore, having children is damaging the careers of thousands of others. The result is an entrenching of the gender pay gap.
The UK birth rate is falling and yet those of us who do have families are desperately struggling.
Stand with us in solidarity and fight for change.