'March of the Mummies': Parents take to streets to demand UK childcare reform

Credit: PA

More than 15,000 protesters have taken part in marches around the UK calling for reforms to the childcare sector and parental leave, a charity said.

Those taking part in the protest, called the March of the Mummies, demanded “urgent progress on women’s rights” and improvements in the childcare sector.

The Pregnant Then Screwed campaign organised Halloween-themed March of the Mummies in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle, Norwich, Belfast and Exeter on Saturday.

Thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square in central London, with families including young children wearing bandages, vampire costumes, and witches’ hats, while demonstrators banged drums at the front of the procession.

The protest is organised by Pregnant Then Screwed to demand government reform on childcare, parental leave and flexible working. Credit: PA

Protesters held banners reading “The future won’t raise itself” and “Affordable childcare now” as they marched to Parliament Square.

Thousands of mothers stood outside Downing Street shouting “Dear Rishi Sunak, we want our choices back”, while others held banners reading “My skills got me hired! My wok got me fired!” and “Affordable childcare now”.

The protesters are demonstrating about expensive childcare and poor paternity benefits, which is part of a situation they say is leading too many women of childbearing age to drop out of the workforce.

ITV News has previously spoken to parents who say they could save money if one of them stays home - rather than both going to work to earn money - and forgoing the need for childcare provisions.

Labour MP Stella Creasy said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had made comments likening maternity leave to a holiday that suggested he “(doesn’t) really know what he’s talking about”.

She said: “We’ve got a cost-of-living crisis and an economy that isn’t growing. You can’t solve either of those challenges without investing in childcare.

“For me, investing in childcare pays off because the more women – and it is mainly women being penalised by this – can work, the more families can make choices that work for them.”

Speaking at the March for Mummies protest in central London, organiser Joeli Brearley encouraged the crowd to “force (the government) to listen” to the voices of mothers.

Saturday’s March of the Mummies is expected to bring out thousands of parents and children across numerous cities. Credit: PA

“We need to force them to listen. Thank you for being here, thank you for being part of this moment,” Ms Brearley, founder of the Pregnant then Screwed charity, said.

“When the policymakers finally do something… they’ll pretend it was all their idea, but we will remember this moment.”

Childcare in the UK is among the most expensive in Europe, with typical fees costing around two thirds of families as much as their monthly mortgage and rent payments.

Many parents living in England with children between three and four years old can currently get 30 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year.

But there is a lack of cover for the remaining weeks of the year, causing particular financial strain in the context of the cost-of-living crisis.

How did childcare become so expensive?

Stark figures show the cost of childcare for a typical family has shot up by £4,000 in the space of just 12 years.

The fee increases come as the childcare sector warns the government it is on the “brink of collapse.”

An industry-wide recruitment crisis, a gap in government cash to support nurseries to offer 'free' nursery places, soaring energy bills, and as-yet unanswered calls for VAT and business rates relief, have all collided to force centres to shut their doors, according to the National Day Nurseries Association's warnings.

The latest figures show a two-thirds increase in the number of nurseries closing this summer compared to the same time last year.

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