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5 January 2023

The Policy Ask with Joeli Brearley: “If you’re not happy and you dread going to work, then leave”

The founder of Pregnant Then Screwed on toxic workplaces, the need for universal free childcare and Stella Creasy.

By Spotlight

Joeli Brearley is the founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, a charity and campaign group that aims to end maternity discrimination in the workplace. She set up the organisation after being sacked via voicemail two days after informing her employer that she was pregnant with her first child. She is an author and a journalist, having written The Motherhood Penalty and regularly contributes to the Telegraph and the Independent.

How do you start your working day?   

By repeatedly shouting: “Boys, for the love of god, will you put your shoes on!” Then, when they finally leave for school with their dad, I drink a very large cup of coffee and listen to ten minutes of Radio 4 before I switch my computer on.

What has been your career high?   

March of the Mummies, the protest we organised in 11 cities across the UK in demand for government reform on childcare, flexible working and parental leave. It was hugely ambitious but we pulled it off. Roughly 15,000 families attended, we had more than 700 items of press coverage and 67 per cent of attendees had never been to a protest before.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career? 

The death of Mary Agyapong, a 28-year-old nurse, who was the first pregnant woman to die from Covid-19. I had pleaded with the government to do more to keep pregnant women safe and we were supporting as many women as we could with legal advice so that they could protect themselves from the disease. Her death broke me.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be? 

If you’re not happy, if you dread going to work, then leave. It’s not worth your time or your energy. And don’t be intimidated by more senior colleagues. They don’t always know best.

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Which political figure inspires you?   

Stella Creasy MP. She’s not interested in personal gain or toeing the line so that she can climb the political ladder. She wants to make the lives of women materially better and she uses her influence to do exactly that, no matter what the personal cost. Plus, she is absolutely hilarious.

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What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?   

The tampon tax fund that allocates funds generated from the VAT on period products to projects that will improve the lives of disadvantaged women and girls. Although I don’t always agree with how the money is distributed, the fact that it exists is a wonderful thing.

And what policy should the UK government ditch?   

The shared parental leave scheme. Only 2 per cent of eligible families use it. Instead they should create a policy of ring-fenced properly paid parental leave for both parents. We know from other countries that this would significantly increase uptake, thereby improving gender equality, and the well-being of whole families.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?  

I was really pleased to see the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill pass its second reading. It has a few more hoops to jump through before it receives Royal Assent, but once it becomes law it will give both parents up to 12 weeks extra leave and pay to spend vital time with their baby if they are born premature or sick.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?  

Canada recently invested $30bn in its childcare sector to create a system that costs no more than $10 a day. It did this after trialling the policy in Quebec and studying the outcomes. It found that every C$1 invested in childcare put between C$1.50 and C$2.80 back into the wider economy

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

Free, universal childcare for all children. This would include childcare workers being paid a decent wage, and an increased provision for those who have a child with a disability.

[See also: Could overdose prevention centres tackle the UK’s drug death crisis?]