Day 1 – Four Mums In Kentish Town
April 5, 2011 § 3 Comments
We’ve heard from politicians about the squeezed middle class, but who are they?
On Monday, we met Martina, Sarah, Lucy and Inka, four mums with young children at the Caversham Children’s Centre in Kentish Town in North London. As parents picked up their toddlers after their working days, we joined the mums for a cup of tea at home to find out how life has changed over the last few years since the financial crash.
For young families the cost of daycare is astonishing. Lucy explained that per child, per month – the cost comes in at roughly £1500. For those under a certain income bracket, this is reduced to around £800. Nonetheless, for single parents particularly, these prices are getting out of reach. But what has really brought these women into action is the threatened closure of the centre itself.
Sarah grew up just around the corner from where she lives now. Two of her sisters are within five minutes walking distance, and on the way to her house from the centre, we walk past both her primary and secondary school. Now a mum to a two-year old boy with her partner Diego, she describes the lack of places for toddles in day care centres across the area.
“I’d been on the waiting list since before he was born. Just three weeks before I had to return to work I found out that he’d got a place – it was such a relief. There are lots of young families here, and all of them rely on these services because nearly all parents work to be able to afford the rent or mortgage. But now, with this centre closing and more closing soon, there aren’t going to be any more places for new families. All the other centres that we’re supposed to be moving to are already over-subscribed. How are new mums going to be able to go back to work? They’ll never leave the waiting list!”
One of the mums explained that without the centre, she is likely to have to leave her job in order to care for her son at home. “That will mean we’ll have to move away from the area, to somewhere much cheaper. But that means moving away from friends and family, and leaving behind the good schools in the area too.”
These are middle-class families with middle-class aspirations and expectations. They work in the media, or in IT, or as teachers. They want their kids to be friends with other children from all types of backgrounds. “I think that’s what everyone wants”, says Lucy. “You expect their lives to be better than yours, but I’m losing that hope to be honest.”
For these families, it’s no longer just the costs of childcare either. “Food prices have gone through the roof – I only buy special offers now. I feel like my mother in the 70’s – I’m the most thrifty person I know!” says one. They accept that the cheap credit of the last couple of decades was abnormal, but ask why they – and not the banks – are now being punished.
“I was never political – to be honest, I didn’t really care much. We didn’t have to!” explains Lucy. Now though, they’ve organised protests, leafletting, council meetings, articles in the local paper – a group of families even joined the March for the Alternative through the streets of London last month.
And they’ve had some success. The campaign to Save Camden’s Children’s Services has already managed to extend the centre’s services by six months, but the council says it will have to close in August, following orders from government to cut £90 million.
There are moments when we look at each other nearly surprised by the fact that we’re having this conversation. We talk about the price of private child care – some of them used to have it, but can no longer afford it. “Only really rich people can afford that these days”, I’m told.
After nearly an hour, the kids start clambering onto laps and it’s time for us to go.
As we walk out the door, I try to tell them how important their campaign is. “You’re the ones the MPs really fear” I say, “not the black bloc – you are their voters”. They look a little bewildered – and perhaps a little emboldened.