On the 29th October I joined the March of the Mummies, which took place in Bristol as part of a national protest for families across the UK organised by Pregnant Then Screwed. The March of the Mummies is intended to highlight the key issues that have a significant impact on the lives of women with children and the livelihoods of families and to raise awareness among policymakers of these issues and the challenges they pose the stability and the security of families.
The three key issues of this march were good quality and affordable childcare for all children, flexible working as the default, and ring-fenced, properly paid parental leave for all parents. Childcare providers are far too few to meet the demand and often too expensive for families to afford. This leads to mothers dropping out of the workforce in droves as it is still women who are more likely than men to stay home with children and provide the care. The gender pay gap increased in 2021 and more families are now living in poverty.
The UK has the second most expensive childcare in the OECD and, despite the exorbitant costs, the system does not work for parents, for children, for employers, or for the wider economy. High quality but affordable childcare is vital social infrastructure as just like public transport, it enables people, and particularly women, to continue to work, to contribute to the economy through employment, through taxes. Nearly 2 million women are prevented from taking on more paid hours of work because of the cost of childcare and yet the investment in childcare has demonstrable consequences for our children as they grow up. For every £1 invested into early years education, of which pre-school childcare is an important part, £13 is later saved in interventions that are no longer needed. Just as public transport needs investment to make the system work for everyone, so does childcare. Social infrastructure doesn’t just work for those who need to use it; as employers rely on public transport getting their workers into the workplace, we as a society rely on high quality childcare to prepare our children to become decent and hard-working members of society.
Shockingly, Pregnant Then Screwed report that parents pay more for childcare than they pay for housing. Early years’ education is then denied to the children of parents who simply cannot afford the fees and talented women are being kept out of the workplace. We need affordable childcare now where childcare workers are paid a fair and decent wage, we need more staff so that more children have access to early years education and to ensure that current child-to-staff ratios remain safe, and we need more flexible working guarantees so that women are helped to remain in the workforce while managing childcare. The Government needs to start taking this ‘women’s issue’ seriously because it affects us all.