By Sarah Bates
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Rage over childcare crisis—thousands join March of the Mummies

This article is over 1 years, 5 months old
The protests demanded action on childcare, parental leave and flexible working
Women and children on a march with buggies and placard saying "Unaffordable childcare is trashing our lives"

On the march for proper childcare provision (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Thousands of parents took to the streets across Britain on Saturday, as part of the March of the Mummies day of action against the childcare crisis

Organised by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, it was the largest protest of its kind for many years. 

Parents were driven to the streets of London, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff, Exeter, Norwich, Bristol, Newcastle and Birmingham by a childcare system so expensive it’s forcing increasing amounts of women out of the workforce. 

In London Juliet told Socialist Worker the cost of childcare forced her to give up her job while pregnant with her second child. “I miss the sense of purpose that work provides,” she said. 

Mathilde is contemplating moving from her much-loved area of London, right across the city to be closer to her partner’s family, who are able to provide childcare. “My whole salary, £1,600, would go to nursery,” she told Socialist Worker. 

Mathilde said bit feels like “women aren’t the government’s priority, they’ve forgotten about us. It feels a bit like they’re punishing us for deciding to have kids”.

Reiss told Socialist Worker that, although his 80-year old grandmother is keen to help care for their baby son Albert, it feels like “she’s already done her bit.” “She’s more than happy to help out, but that’s a lot of pressure on her,” he said. 

Protesters waved placards bearing the message, “When things get shitty we change them,” and, “The future won’t raise itself.” 

Lots of protesters dressed in Halloween costumes. And when the march stopped outside Downing Streets, chants of “Oi Rishi Sunak, give us our choices back” filled the air. 

Some women were already feeling the effects of a childcare crisis—despite not even giving birth yet. Kathryn, who is expecting her first child in December, said she came along partly because “it’s scary how expensive everything is”. 

Shortages of childcare placements mean that, despite still being pregnant, she has had to organise—and pay a deposit for—a nursery place ahead of giving birth. 

“I’ve had to sort out a nursery, work out what days I want, and stuff like that,” she said. “The waiting lists are so long, I’m having to organise my return to work and I’ve not even left yet.”

Her friend Frankie, who was also on her first protest, explained, “This type of organisation totally falls on women. We have supportive other halves, they’re really hands-on, but they don’t do any of this bit.”

“They don’t get much parental leave,” said Kathryn. “So it’s the system that forces that societal narrative that we’re the default parent.”

Pregnant Then Screwed had three central demands for the protests—flexible working as the default, good quality affordable childcare and ring-fenced, properly-paid parental leave. 

Reiss, Mathilde and Albert on the march in London

Reiss, Mathilde and Albert on the march in London

For Emma, a mother to three children, her childcare costs are “horrendous”. “It affects everything—we haven’t been on holiday since we had the children,” she told Socialist Worker. “We travelled loads before we had children. So we used to say, ‘I can’t wait to take them and do all these things.’ But now we have zero spare money.”

And she described the childcare crisis as “demoralising.” “You work really hard as a mother, and you work really hard at a job—and you’ve got nothing financially to show for it,” she said. 

“You’re not able to do things you anticipated doing with your children, because you’re paying for someone else to look after them.” 

She called on the government to fund childcare places from the moment maternity leave ends—at least partially. And Emma says she and her partner were “literally counting down the days” until her youngest child received some free funding. 

Many protesters talked about how underfunding the sector was driving a wrecking ball through provision. Livvy called for a “huge rewrite” across the entire sector, and said she feels “like mothers and the childcare sector are massively low on the list of the government’s priorities”.

“It’s not just this government though, it’s years and years of underinvestment,” she said. 

One idea mooted several times by the government this year is relaxing ratios of staff to children in early years provision. Livvy blasted relaxing ratios as workers “only have the same amount of hands.” “It adds an unnecessary pressure on an already overstretched workforce who work incredibly hard,” she said. “They’re so undersupported and underfunded.”

Pregnant Then Screwed founder Joeli Brearly greeted the throng of people, placards and pushchairs from a double-decker bus in Parliament Square. She said that policymakers “expected us to be good girls who bonk for Britain but ignore us in policymaking.”

She called for policy-making that “allows dads to be dads.” “We can fix this and we can change it,” she said. “But we need to keep going, we need to force them to listen.”

Brearly said when politicians act on the childcare crisis they’ll “pretend it was all their idea but we will remember this moment”.

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