Mothers across the country have shared their experiences of being denied jobs or promotions because they had children, amid an MP’s drive to get more of them into politics.
Stella Creasy‘s ‘This Mum Votes’ campaign was launched in late 2021 in an effort to get more mothers and new parents elected to parliament and help address the “lack of mum voices in the decision-making process”.
The Labour MP for Walthamstow described being “heartbroken” by her own party’s response to her two pregnancies and unprecedented fight for maternity cover as an MP.
‘You’re pregnant, not sick’
She was the first in history to get cover in her constituency after her first child in 2019 but is still fighting the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which says other people cannot cover MPs in parliament, after she gave birth for a second time last year.
Ms Creasy also prompted a rethink over parliamentary rules on babies in the House of Commons after sharing a letter advising her she should not have brought her sleeping three-month-old into the chamber.
“I took my baby in not because I wanted to, but because I don’t have any maternity cover,” she told Sky News.
“It’s an imperfect solution to a system that isn’t really set up for parents to be part of our political process.”
Responding to a call for experiences from fellow campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed this week, one woman recalled being told she would have to use her annual leave allowance to get time off for morning sickness.
“‘If you want to start late due to morning sickness, you’ll have to use your annual leave,'” the woman said on Twitter.
“‘Is it not sick leave?’ ‘No! You’re pregnant, not sick’ (when I mentioned all the unpaid overtime I’d recently done, HR suddenly went quiet on the matter.”
Another said she was told her “career would be over” when she told a female mentor she was having a third child.
Political journalist Isabel Oakeshott responded by saying she had covered up a pregnancy for six months for fear of being denied a promotion.
“I hid a pregnancy for six months because I was sure I would not be promoted to Political Editor of the Sunday Times if they found out,” she said.
“It worked – I was the first woman ever to have that job – but it was awful.”
Another woman claimed to have been asked by her boss if she could “try to get pregnant again during maternity leave” to “get it all over with” so that arranging cover would be easier.
Ms Creasy described the stories as “horrific”, adding: “Unfortunately, from the hashtag that we’ve got, it’s very clear that even in current workplaces those attitudes are rife.”
Calls for affordable childcare and shared parental leave as default
The This Mum Votes campaign is calling for universally affordable childcare, so women are more widely available during traditional working hours, scrapping the two-child limit for support via Universal Credit, and ring-fenced paternity leave so more mothers can get back to work sooner.
The initiative also wants to see funding from political parties to mentor and support mothers to stand at the next UK General Election.
In the US, the original VoteMama initiative has helped get more than 200 mothers running for political office up to state level.
Ms Creasy added: “This is the most basic function that people have in life, to reproduce, so let’s try and make it easier to have that life and to have a family life because it’s good for everyone.
“Our economic competitors are investing heavily in childcare because they see it as an infrastructure issue. If other countries can do it, why can’t we?”
In response to Ms Creasy’s maternity cover case, an IPSA spokesperson told Sky News it had increased funding for locum MP’s salaries from £50,000 to £60,000 pro rata.
They added in a statement: “Constitutionally no one can take on the full roles and responsibilities of a MP, who is an office holder elected by the general public.
“Elected MPs are able to attend the chamber, engage in debates, ask oral questions of ministers and vote in parliament.
“It is up to parliament to decide if the law should be changed so that an unelected person can undertake these duties when an MP can’t be there.”