This summer my son turns 4, and I’m coming to the end of a financially crippling time in my life. Like many working mums in the UK, I’ve been sweating blood to pay my child’s nursery fees, calculated at an average of £1,000 per month. Even if you’re lucky enough to receive childcare vouchers from your employer, like me, or you qualify for working tax credit (I don’t), the cost of a part-time place for a child under two has increased by 32.8 per cent over the last Parliament, while wages stayed the same.
“It’s just something you’ve got to accept,” people tell you again and again, as if social injustice is a passing bout of bad weather. We live in a world where success is measured by how much you can endure in silence. There’s a fundamental difference between diplomacy and obedience. And it’s somehow a paradox that obedience is so sought after yet so bitterly despised.
You accept a stormy day, a burnt dinner. Missing a train.
You don’t accept being stripped of your right at making a living. Going back to work is a right, not a privilege you should have to BUY.
I know, all of us grumble about how expensive it is to send our kids to nursery, but for some the fees are only a small chunk of their salary. For me, however, it was crippling – at least until the extra income from my writing started coming in.
Those of you who have kids know how 24 hours shifts feel like. In many ways, I was lucky. Being supported by family meant that I had some money left at the end of the month, and even time to write. It also meant I had to accept help from my family at an age where a full time job should have made me entirely independent.
I come from a tightly knit Eastern ‘clan’, and in our culture you’re never really alone. I’ve spent next to nothing on toys or clothing, music lessons, or holidays. Having my child looked after by my in laws two days a week also gave me some relief from feeling so humiliated and helpless.
In the dark hours I had to repeat these words in my head, like a mantra:
I’m educated. I’m skilled. I can achieve things. I’m a teacher. I’m a writer. I have a voice. And one day everyone is going to hear it.
But while I was slipping into the poverty trap, no one seemed to care.
So I have to care. I vowed to try and change something for women who aren’t as lucky as me.
Women whose families don’t look after their children because they either can’t or won’t.
Mums who have to go to second hand shops and sift through dusty toys and clothes, despite working full time or wanting to work full time (it is estimated that at least 600,000 stay-at-home parents would prefer to work if they could afford to do so).
Mums who aren’t married. Women whose partners earn as little as them.
I’m writing this to honor those for whom motherhood means the end of their working life.
Those for whom the thought of another child is a harrowing prospect, but they do it anyway, because the clock is ticking and after all, once you get used to it, poverty isn’t really that bad.
For those who can’t afford to get depressed because even mental health is expensive to maintain ( £60 per hour, to be exact).
For the mothers who are single out of choice or circumstance, for those studying or training.
And how about the people who love their job but aren’t paid that much, like teachers and librarians and writers?
Several pieces were written about the parents’ struggle with childcare fees, but here are some statistics. The minimum national wage is £6,70 an hour, even less if you’re younger than 21. That’s about £53 for a full day’s work. Deduce tax, and you’ll be going home with barely enough money to buy your child’s nappies, let alone pay the extortionate £50 a day nursery fees.
For a lot of mums this means that it’s just not worth going back to work. If I made a wild guess, a lot of childcare workers, carers, medical technicians, lifeguards, mechanics and nurses won’t be going back to work after the birth of a child. This impacts heavily on the economy, and who might be there to take the blame but the young, the healthy and the foreign.
Let’s face it, there’s little place for breastfeeding mothers and their snotty breed in the brutal world of business – a world for the fit, the white, the rich and the male.
I know there are many judges among you, and you will say, well, they should’ve had an education. Work harder, be more driven.
How about those who can’t afford a higher education? How about those who don’t even want one? A society where there are more chiefs than Indians is simply not realistic.
And the educated? There’s the famous case of Jack Monroe, the food writer reduced to begging when she became a single mother, and we all know J.K. Rowling’s modern Cinderella story.
Besides, what would we do without waitresses and nurses and receptionists?
Why are they being pushed to the bottom by something that should be the most natural thing in the world?
Parenthood is not a disease. Still, for many, it’s an unbelievable luxury, and the expense of it – the reason why they start a family late or not at all.
We are all equal, until we get a childcare bill that some can pay and others can’t.
You can change this NOW. You can speak out. You can share your story and join the campaign by signing the petition below.
Next week my son officially finishes nursery. A whole month earlier than planned, but the family are helping, and like I said, we are a strong clan.
It’s been a bumpy ride. Four years ago, I didn’t think politics was my cup of tea. I was a writer and a dreamer.
I’m still a writer. Even more of a dreamer. But somewhere along the way I shed my baby skin.
I know little of wars but my words are my swords.
And wherever they take me, I’m headed that way.