Opinion: Working mothers will decide this general election – disregard them at your peril

by pregnancy journalist

She’s exhausted, overstretched and undervalued, but still politically engaged enough to make a difference. Politicians ignore working mums at their own peril. 

You can always tell when campaigning shifts up a gear because the Conservatives begin to recall the existence of the north. This time it is the rugby league-loving men of Cumbria that have caught their eye – a dubious honour, if ever there was one. And while Workington Man will go down in the annals of election history alongside his cousins from Essex and Worcester, somewhere out there, lurking beneath the radar of many think tanks, is a woman making her way home from a job that pays her 17.3 per cent less than it should, to collect her child from a nursery that she can scarcely afford.

She scrolls through news stories of female MPs stepping down from office while male politicians have the whip restored to them, despite allegations of sexual harassment (with one MP having had a recent allegation against him dropped). Occasionally her frustration at the state of politics is interrupted by the worry that her child’s nursery is rumoured to be one of the 179 that will close this month. She’s Working Mum and you can find her at the intersection of feminism and economics. 

We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.

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We’re currently in that awful pre-manifesto stage of electioneering where we’re drip-fed potential policies on a daily basis in order to gauge our reaction. Such teases. It reminds me of the time I was trying to catch a mouse that was squatting in my airing cupboard. One day, I put out cheese, the next day I put out bread. Eventually, it was the peanut butter that lured the mouse into the trap. This week’s peanut butter has been childcare. Labour has shown it’s hand early by confirming that they’ll expand the 30-hours of free childcare to include two-year-olds. While the Conservatives look set to increase the current offering from 38 weeks during term time to 48 weeks. 

Of course, neither policy goes far enough for mothers who still bear the majority of caring responsibilities while trying to maintain a career. What remains to be seen is how either party intends to fund any potential reform. Government underfunding of childcare and early years education has left a £662m hole in the finances of the industry, resulting in low wages among a workforce that is 98 per cent female. Research by Nursery World found that half of childcare workers earn poverty wages with one in 10 living below the poverty line. Of those surveyed, 76 per cent had children of their own – they too are working mums. 

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UK news in pictures

Shape Created with Sketch.
UK news in pictures

1/51 2 November 2019

Pro Scottish Independence campaigners listen as Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister addresses a rally calling for Scottish independence in Glasgow

2/51 1 November 2019

Police and recovery workers remove a damaged bus from the scene of a crash in Sevenoaks Road, south-east London. A man has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving after a person died and 15 others were injured

3/51 31 October 2019

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures as launches the party’s election campaign in south London. Britain will go to the polls on December 12

4/51 30 October 2019

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon joins Alyn Smith, the SNP’s candidate for Stirling, at the Made in Stirling Store and Creative Hub, during the general election campaign trail

5/51 29 October 2019

A 1264 locomotive travels through an autumn scene along the North York Moors National Park

6/51 28 October 2019

Paul Hayes of Lower Lydbrook ferries children to dry land after the River Wye burst its banks flooding the Gloucestershire village
Cosplayers during the third day of London’s Comic Con

8/51 26 October 2019

England fans celebrate after their side beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final match in Japan. Eddie Jones’s side won 19-7

9/51 25 October 2019

Meerkats at Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirling, investigate a carved pumpkin as the park celebrates national pumpkin day on Saturday October 26.

10/51 24 October 2019

A giant inflatable monster, created by artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas, is unveiled in Manchester ahead of the city’s annual halloween celebrations

11/51 23 October 2019

Thirty-nine bodies have been found in a lorry container in Essex, police have said.

The discovery of 38 adults and one teenager was made at an industrial estate in Thurrock.

Police said they believed the lorry had come from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead, in Wales, on Saturday.

Essex Police said it had launched a murder investigation after its officers were called to Waterglade Industrial Park, in Grays, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder

12/51 22 October 2019

Ships out at sea before the sun rises off the coast of Whitley Bay, Northumberland

13/51 21 October 2019

Hundreds of students take part in the traditional Raisin Monday foam fight on St Salvator’s Lower College Lawn at the University of St Andrews in Fife. The messy display is the culmination of a weekend of festivities where first years say thank you to their more senior student “parents” for mentoring them

14/51 20 October 2019

Wales players celebrate after beating France in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Japan. Warren Gatland’s side had to battle after France’s fast start but capitalised on their rivals’ ill discipline to squeeze into the semi-finals, 20-19

15/51 19 October 2019

People gather in London to join the Final Say march for a people’s vote

16/51 18 October 2019

Protesters on Whitehall in London during an Extinction Rebellion climate change protest

17/51 17 October 2019

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson shake hands during a news conference after agreeing on a Brexit deal, in Brussels

18/51 16 October 2019

A man walks his dog through the fallen leaves in Clarkes Gardens, Allerton in Liverpool

19/51 15 October 2019

Police officers carry away an activist as Extinction Rebellion protesters block a road with a caravan in central London

20/51 14 October 2019

Queen Elizabeth II sits with Prince Charles on the Sovereign’s throne ahead of delivering the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament

21/51 13 October 2019

Great Britain’s Joe Fraser competes on Parallel Bars during the World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. He claimed GB’s second gold with his victory. The 20-year-old from Birmingham nailed his routine to score 15.0 then watched as a series of rivals failed to live up to his total

22/51 12 October 2019

St Helens players celebrate with the trophy after they won the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford in Manchester. They beat Salford Red Devils 23-6

23/51 11 October 2019

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Tehran since 2016, holds his daughter Gabriella during a news conference in London. Their five-year-old daughter has arrived back in Britain, after making the “bittersweet” decision to bring her home

24/51 10 October 2019

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Thornton Manor. Their meeting focused on further Brexit proposals

25/51 9 October 2019

Wales survived an almighty scare against Fiji to secure quarter-final spot at the rugby world cup. Warren Gatland’s side recovered from a 10-0 deficit thanks to a hat-trick from Josh Adams

26/51 8 October 2019

Protesters dubbed the Red Rebels at Millbank at the junction with Great College Street, during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Westminster

27/51 7 October 2019

Final preparations are made in front of a reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, ahead of the opening of for the ‘Michelangelo: A Different View’ exhibition at Hull Minister

28/51 6 October 2019

A car drives through a flooded street in Whitley Bay in Northumberland

29/51 5 October 2019

Thousands took to the streets of Edinburgh today to march in support of a second Scottish independence referendum

30/51 4 October 2019

A 12ft sculpture of a gorilla, entitled ‘Gorilla Apocalypse’, created by Luke Kite entirely from scrap car bumpers and panels discarded in the last decade is on display at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire

31/51 3 October 2019

Police stands in front of the Treasury building during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London

32/51 2 October 2019

Ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrate in London after delivering a petition calling for a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and for the company’s directors to pay back their bonuses

33/51 1 October 2019

A road in Alum Rock, Birmingham is flooded after persistent heavy rain

34/51 30 September 2019

Two tourists pose for pictures in front of Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London

35/51 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

36/51 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

37/51 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

38/51 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

39/51 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

40/51 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

41/51 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

42/51 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

43/51 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

44/51 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

45/51 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

46/51 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

47/51 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

48/51 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

49/51 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

51/51 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

1/51 2 November 2019

Pro Scottish Independence campaigners listen as Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister addresses a rally calling for Scottish independence in Glasgow

2/51 1 November 2019

Police and recovery workers remove a damaged bus from the scene of a crash in Sevenoaks Road, south-east London. A man has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving after a person died and 15 others were injured

3/51 31 October 2019

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures as launches the party’s election campaign in south London. Britain will go to the polls on December 12

4/51 30 October 2019

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon joins Alyn Smith, the SNP’s candidate for Stirling, at the Made in Stirling Store and Creative Hub, during the general election campaign trail

5/51 29 October 2019

A 1264 locomotive travels through an autumn scene along the North York Moors National Park

6/51 28 October 2019

Paul Hayes of Lower Lydbrook ferries children to dry land after the River Wye burst its banks flooding the Gloucestershire village
Cosplayers during the third day of London’s Comic Con

8/51 26 October 2019

England fans celebrate after their side beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final match in Japan. Eddie Jones’s side won 19-7

9/51 25 October 2019

Meerkats at Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirling, investigate a carved pumpkin as the park celebrates national pumpkin day on Saturday October 26.

10/51 24 October 2019

A giant inflatable monster, created by artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas, is unveiled in Manchester ahead of the city’s annual halloween celebrations

11/51 23 October 2019

Thirty-nine bodies have been found in a lorry container in Essex, police have said.

The discovery of 38 adults and one teenager was made at an industrial estate in Thurrock.

Police said they believed the lorry had come from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead, in Wales, on Saturday.

Essex Police said it had launched a murder investigation after its officers were called to Waterglade Industrial Park, in Grays, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder

12/51 22 October 2019

Ships out at sea before the sun rises off the coast of Whitley Bay, Northumberland

13/51 21 October 2019

Hundreds of students take part in the traditional Raisin Monday foam fight on St Salvator’s Lower College Lawn at the University of St Andrews in Fife. The messy display is the culmination of a weekend of festivities where first years say thank you to their more senior student “parents” for mentoring them

14/51 20 October 2019

Wales players celebrate after beating France in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Japan. Warren Gatland’s side had to battle after France’s fast start but capitalised on their rivals’ ill discipline to squeeze into the semi-finals, 20-19

15/51 19 October 2019

People gather in London to join the Final Say march for a people’s vote

16/51 18 October 2019

Protesters on Whitehall in London during an Extinction Rebellion climate change protest

17/51 17 October 2019

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson shake hands during a news conference after agreeing on a Brexit deal, in Brussels

18/51 16 October 2019

A man walks his dog through the fallen leaves in Clarkes Gardens, Allerton in Liverpool

19/51 15 October 2019

Police officers carry away an activist as Extinction Rebellion protesters block a road with a caravan in central London

20/51 14 October 2019

Queen Elizabeth II sits with Prince Charles on the Sovereign’s throne ahead of delivering the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament

21/51 13 October 2019

Great Britain’s Joe Fraser competes on Parallel Bars during the World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. He claimed GB’s second gold with his victory. The 20-year-old from Birmingham nailed his routine to score 15.0 then watched as a series of rivals failed to live up to his total

22/51 12 October 2019

St Helens players celebrate with the trophy after they won the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford in Manchester. They beat Salford Red Devils 23-6

23/51 11 October 2019

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Tehran since 2016, holds his daughter Gabriella during a news conference in London. Their five-year-old daughter has arrived back in Britain, after making the “bittersweet” decision to bring her home

24/51 10 October 2019

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Thornton Manor. Their meeting focused on further Brexit proposals

25/51 9 October 2019

Wales survived an almighty scare against Fiji to secure quarter-final spot at the rugby world cup. Warren Gatland’s side recovered from a 10-0 deficit thanks to a hat-trick from Josh Adams

26/51 8 October 2019

Protesters dubbed the Red Rebels at Millbank at the junction with Great College Street, during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Westminster

27/51 7 October 2019

Final preparations are made in front of a reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, ahead of the opening of for the ‘Michelangelo: A Different View’ exhibition at Hull Minister

28/51 6 October 2019

A car drives through a flooded street in Whitley Bay in Northumberland

29/51 5 October 2019

Thousands took to the streets of Edinburgh today to march in support of a second Scottish independence referendum

30/51 4 October 2019

A 12ft sculpture of a gorilla, entitled ‘Gorilla Apocalypse’, created by Luke Kite entirely from scrap car bumpers and panels discarded in the last decade is on display at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire

31/51 3 October 2019

Police stands in front of the Treasury building during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London

32/51 2 October 2019

Ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrate in London after delivering a petition calling for a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and for the company’s directors to pay back their bonuses

33/51 1 October 2019

A road in Alum Rock, Birmingham is flooded after persistent heavy rain

34/51 30 September 2019

Two tourists pose for pictures in front of Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London

35/51 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

36/51 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

37/51 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

38/51 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

39/51 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

40/51 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

41/51 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

42/51 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

43/51 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

44/51 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

45/51 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

46/51 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

47/51 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

48/51 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

49/51 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

51/51 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

The childcare quagmire is Capitalism 101: leverage the needs and desires of one group of workers against the needs and desires of another. What think tanks might fail to grasp is that Working Mum cares about more than her own personal struggle. A friend of mine who earns nicely in a PR role recently told me that her daughter’s nursery key worker broke down in tears one day at collection time. She told my friend that she was struggling to pay the bills and didn’t know how she could continue in her role.

My friend who pays £1,000 a month to this woman’s employer has recently wondered the same about her own job. Both women are salary brackets apart yet united by their shared experience of spinning plates. You see, Working Mum transcends the Brexit division. She is all occupations and all constituencies. She’s Gen X, she’s a millennial, and she’s Gen Y. She’s a woman that’s had enough, and you ignore her vote at your peril. 

On her commute home, Working Mum scrolls through Instagram and follows some more inspirational women that keep her motivated. She may be exhausted and pissed off, but she’s not defeated and she knows that change is possible, because she’s seen it – in the form of #MeToo, gender pay gap reporting and the right to request flexible working. 

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

On Friday night’s episode of The Last Leg, Sandi Toksvig suggested that the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) could win if there was another surprise election. Let’s be honest, four elections in four years would eliminate any element of surprise, but Toksvig’s claim received a rapturous response from the audience. In the last week, I’ve heard several mums mention the 1975 Icelandic strike that saw 90 per cent of the country’s women down tools to highlight the value of their labour. Whether it’s via a political party or school-gate small talk, it’s clear that women want to see change.

That change might not come in the form of a nationwide strike or a WEP election win, but it is coming and this December the charge will be led by Working Mum. Frustrated by policies that make neither motherhood nor work easier, and exhausted by a society that tells her she can ‘have it all’ without providing the infrastructure to do so, she’ll decide this election, not Workington Man. She’ll just have to do it before she collects the kids. 

This content was originally published here.

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