Voices: The mothers of this country are angry – we demand recognition, respect and change

Mothers everywhere have had enough. It’s the 21st century, yet 54,000 mothers a year are forced out of the workplace for simply daring to procreate.

We’re tired of being ignored and pushed to the bottom of the pile. As things stand today, we have the second most expensive childcare in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the third worst ranking maternity benefit and the worst ranking paternity benefit in Europe. We’re a global joke, and mothers are the punchline, so much so that data from the ONS shows that women of childbearing age are dropping like flies from the workforce.

The childcare sector is in a mess. Two-thirds of parents pay the same or more for their childcare as they do their rent or their mortgage. This is a cost they have to endure to go work and financially contribute to their family and the economy. Some parents are actually paying to go to work – make it make sense!

Meanwhile, due to the government “knowingly underfunding” childcare subsidies, childcare professionals are paid less than someone flipping burgers in McDonald’s. It’s not as if the nursery owners are raking it in – thousands have closed under the pressure of rising energy and food costs.

This broken system that mothers are plunged into is now impacting our decision to have children at all. We’ve spoken to thousands of mothers and 31 per cent of new parents will not be able to afford to have any more children, and 48 per cent of pregnant women will have to cut their maternity leave short due to financial hardship. On top of this, shockingly, 61 per cent of mothers who had an abortion in the last five years said that childcare costs were a factor in their decision.

Let me just reiterate that last point: women are terminating wanted pregnancies because they cannot afford childcare. The price that families, and our economy, is paying because the government does not care or support mothers is abhorrent.

The recent mini-Budget has been the nail in the coffin for many mothers who are already bursting at the seams to make ends meet. The proposed policy of slashing benefits for those working part-time will disproportionately impact mothers who work reduced hours as they cannot afford childcare and because they do most of the unpaid labour.

Women’s economic empowerment hinges on a system that works for us, and the government needs to start taking this, us, seriously. Right now, the gender pay gap is getting bigger, the number of men taking paternity leave is at a 10-year low, and all the while, Jacob Rees-Mogg is leaving passive-aggressive notes on employees’ desks if they dare to embrace the 21st-century and work flexibly or from home.

Jessica, a mother of two, who was forced to return to work earlier than she had planned due to pitiful maternity support from the government, has been spiralling into debt ever since. She told me: “I have had to go back full-time instead of part-time because we have had to borrow money from family to get by. We don’t have anyone near us that can watch the children.

“On top of this, we need to move house because our landlord increased our rent by £400 a month, which we could never afford. I’m feeling really helpless and overwhelmed, and I have no idea how we will manage this winter; I know we will need to use a food bank soon, but I’m trying everything so we don’t.”

Or Emma, who is currently pregnant and terrified about paying the bills when the baby arrives. “I’m worried about when the baby arrives because we will need to put the heating on for him/her. So between statutory maternity pay being appallingly low, childcare costs being appallingly high, childcare spaces being too few, and the cost of living increasing, we are in a dire mess.”

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We are calling for an end to the shambolic support system that is failing mothers and families everywhere. A support system that would create a net benefit to our economy if it worked. So hands up if you’re angry, hands up if you’re sick of our unaffordable, inaccessible, dysfunctional childcare system. Hands up if you want to work flexibly. Hands up if you think our parental leave system fails dads and pushes families into debt.

March of the Mummies is a peaceful protest demanding an urgent intervention from the government for the shocking treatment of mothers and families. Come and join us and 10,000 mothers and families as we take to the streets across the UK today to demand recognition, respect and change. It’s a chance for our voices to be heard, loud and clear, even for those sitting on the backbenches.

This is our march for change.

Joeli Brearley founded Pregnant Then Screwed after being sacked when she was four months pregnant.

This article was amended on October 30 2022. It previously said that Liz Truss had increased the threshold for companies reporting the gender pay gap from those with at least 250 employees to ones with 500 employees or more, but that was inaccurate. There has been no such increase.