Four women walk towards the camera with a long banner reading "March of the Mummies. Demanding Government reform of childcare, parental leave and flexible working."

March of the Mummies calls for childcare reform

Parents, grandparents and children took over the city centre as over 1,500 people took part in a Halloween themed protest for fairer and more affordable childcare. 

March of the Mummies was part of a national day of action on October 29 organised by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed. Thousands marched across the country including in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff.  

Nicola Beech, a Bristol councillor and co-organiser of the Bristol march, told The Bristol Activist: ‘Childcare in this country is at absolute breaking point.’

Data from the OECD shows that Britain has the second highest childcare costs amongst developed countries. Figures from the ONS show that childcare costs have increased above salary growth since 2018. In Bristol, the average monthly cost of childcare is £1,147. 

This, said Beech, is ‘compounded by the cost of living and the energy crisis. What it means is that parents are now choosing not to go to work because they can’t afford their childcare.’

Nursery workers also get a rough deal, said Beech. ‘Nursery workers going to food banks, nursery workers on universal credit, nursery workers having two jobs. And then on top of all that you’ve got nurseries collapsing.’ 

Beech said that the struggle so many parents face in accessing and paying for childcare had slipped below the radar for a long time, but that parents, and particularly mothers, are now beginning to speak out.  

Families, said Beech, are ‘made to feel lucky they have a nursery place. And then you start to not question what that does to your annual and monthly salaries.’

Pregnant Then Screwed is demanding that the government 

  • Increase funding for the childcare sector to enable affordable, high quality childcare for all children.
  • Ring-fence properly paid maternity and paternity leave.
  • Ensure all jobs are flexible by default. 

On Tuesday, Pregnant Then Screwed wrote to the prime minister to make their demands and ask for greater investment in early years care and support for parents. 

A woman stands on a stage and speaks into a microphone. Behind her is city hall and she is pointing towards it.
Nicola Beech, a Bristol councillor who helped organise the march, speaks to the crowd. Image: James Ward.

I’m trying to do everything

Amongst those protesting were Ella and Sarah, both first-time mums and both having to consider how and when they will return to work after maternity leave. 

Ella spoke of her frustration at taking time off for childcare as a ‘barrier for a lot of women to try and access any progression in their careers, and even having to just give up their career because their wage is essentially cancelled out by the cost of childcare.’

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the number of women not working so they could look after children has grown by 5% in the past year, whilst research by the TUC found that 54,000 mothers are being pushed out of the workforce every year

Ella’s employer has agreed for her to return to work with one day at home. Many other mothers are not so fortunate. Sarah explained she cannot reduce her hours and so will condense her working week into four days, giving her one day off on Friday. 

Some mothers rely on family to look after children, others have to negotiate different working patterns or rely on partners doing the same. In consequence, said Sarah, mothers like her are being left to cobble together solutions for themselves. 

‘Which then means obviously I’m not a great mum, I’m not a great employee, I’m not great at anything because I’m trying to do everything a little bit rather than doing something really well, which is frustrating.’

Ella added: ‘Making flexible working as well part of the agenda and a normal conversation would really enable a lot of women to go back to work and still have a career and be a mum at the same time.’

Thousands take to the streets

The protest began on College Green at 10am with family activities including face painting and Halloween dressing up. Many protesters came in costumes as mummies and witches. 

Speaking to the crowd, Nura Aabe, founder of Autism Independence, highlighted the extra difficulties faced by parents of children with learning difficulties and disabilities. 

‘As a caregiver it is frightening not being understood by others. For children with complex needs there is no suitable care available to them. Most mothers with disabled children juggle careers and jobs with complex care management, against the odds. 

‘To mention a few, it’s the paperwork and the meetings around special education needs planning, the ongoing medical appointments with specialist services and often in the middle of the day.’

By 11.30 the crowd had swelled to around 1,500 people. When the speeches had finished, the crowd moved towards Park Street and began to march through the city centre. The column of people was so long the front of the march reached St Nicks before the rear had left College Green. 

The march followed a route through the Old City, onto High Street and up Baldwin Street to return to College Green after around an hour.

A large column of people can be seen snaking along a road from the foreground several hundred yards into the distance.
Around 1,500 people joined the march which stretched all the way from Baldwin Street to College Green. Image: James Ward.

The forces are against you

The burden of childcare causes some women to delay having a child until they are in a more financially stable position. Others wonder whether they can afford it at all. 

Emily doesn’t have children, but would like to in the near future, she said. ‘I’m changing my mind all the time, even whether I’m going to have [children] at all.’

‘It makes me really sad and angry that there are a lot of people who want to have children and would be wonderful parents who either feel they can’t at all or are having to push it back,’ she added. 

Emily said she finds it hard to plan for having a child due to rising costs and the state of childcare. 

‘It feels like the forces are working against you. You could have the best intentions, you can be both working parents, you can be well-educated and all this stuff but it’s just not working,’ she said. 

Three women face the camera. They hold placards. One reads: "Giving birth doesn't change my worth"
Emily, with her friends Alicia (middle) and Imogen (right). Image: James Ward.

Did you go this protest? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or at thebristolactivist@protonmail.com.

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