Being a mum is the toughest and most important job in the world. 

Unfortunately, the pay is lousy. 

In today’s world, particularly in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, many households need two incomes to cover basic bills. 

Even if finances don’t dictate a return to work after starting a family, a lot of women don’t want to walk away from their career because they have become a mum. 

And why should they? 

The simple and very depressing answer for many is money. 

An Employers for Childcare survey in 2021 revealed the average cost of a full-time childcare place in Northern Ireland was £170 a week. 

This works out at more than a monthly mortgage for many – and that’s if you have only one child. 

It’s no surprise the survey found more than 40% of parents had reported regularly having to use means other than their income to pay for childcare, including savings, overdrafts, credit cards and even payday loans. 

This savage reality rose to 55% for lone parents. 

On Wednesday, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, took steps to remedy the situation by announcing free childcare for working parents will cover all children under five by September 2025. 

However, in a cruel blow, the scheme doesn’t exist in Northern Ireland. 

It was enough to prompt a mummy and businesswoman to take to social media to express her disgust at the situation in a post that has garnered hundreds of comments from other frustrated parents. 

In a searingly honest account of the reality for working mums, Ashleigh Averell (28) said: “I never tend to get involved….but today, I got involved. 

“Before I got pregnant in 2020, I genuinely believed women can do it all and have it all. Children or not. I was wrong. 

“I took this photograph calling into my office about a week after giving birth. Sleep deprived, pumping under my oversized shirt.  

“It was around this time I was hit with realisation of ‘okay who is going to look after Patrick when I go back to work?’ and found out subsequently that daycare places were few and far between. 

“Luckily we got a place, although guilt sat on my shoulders for the first while, Patrick is thriving with his development, and is genuinely the most social toddler.  

“He plays and learns whilst having serious craic with kids his own age. Something I cannot offer him at home.  

“The announcement for England today in regards to childcare is a HUGE milestone. It’s fantastic.  

“However, with our lack of functioning government it is unlikely to be replicated here anytime soon. I hope I am wrong on this one.” 

She continues: “To put this into perspective, when I was in a marketing role, our childcare bill is more (including small government discount) than my salary. I would essentially be paying to go to work.  

“As a small business owner now, earnings fluctuate, so this is still very stressful. 

“Shocking stats have come out that at the FTSE 100 there are 91 male CEOs and seven women CEOs.  

“Unsurprisingly really as how many women (generally speaking) do you know careers have fallen off a cliff due to childcare accessibility and affordability? For some this is choice, for others this is a sacrifice.  

“The skills I have developed as a mother are more than any job, or running a business has given me.  

“I am double the women I was before Patrick, and I believe this to be true within my peers; but yet only 75% of our labour is considered female, a stark contrast to 82% male (PWC). 

“I am not one for getting involved in politics, however, I can’t help the anger I have felt today. Northern Ireland is falling behind England, Scotland & Wales in these policies – dramatically.  

“The system is currently designed to fail, forcing parents out of work due to financial circumstances. Daycare facilities are also on their knees with rising costs and regulations to adhere to.  

“We posted inspirational quotes last week about women and empowerment. But please, look in the eyes of a women who has had to reduce her hours, or give up her career (without choice) due to the cost of childcare. 

“Where do we go from here? It’s time to use our voices to lobby for change. Women are a valuable asset to any business but we need #ChildcareReform to succeed in the way we ought to.  

“I encourage others to email their MP or MLA ask for change so that women in Northern Ireland can be valued as much as those across the water.” 

Ashleigh, mum to 18-month-old Patrick, isn’t wrong and the response to her post proves this. 

In just 24-hours, she has been inundated with comments, emails and private messages from other mums outlining their own struggles. 

Ashleigh, who owns Newtownabbey-based print and embroidery business IBrand, explains: “I never thought the post would take off the way it has. 

“I actually woke about 3am the night before the budget with Patrick and I was reading about it on the news.  

“I was so excited this was potentially going to be in the budget and then it came out that it didn’t apply to Northern Ireland, it was so disappointing, we’re no different from the women in England. 

“It’s the first time I’ve commented on social media on something so serious and 99% of the responses have been supportive and it’s great to see a discussion on this happening. 

“I’ve had people get in touch and tell me they actually had to resign from their jobs because they couldn’t afford childcare. 

“I had someone tell me that after they pay their childcare all they can afford for food is tins of beans.” 

Of course, as a small business owner as well as being a mum herself, Ashleigh is well aware of the challenges facing parents in the workplace. 

“I had someone who had to leave today 10 minutes after they arrived because their child’s school had closed and that’s okay because I get it,” she continues. 

“I’ve had employees who have had to cut their hours because they couldn’t afford the childcare. 

“It was really embarrassing for them to come to me and it’s difficult for me too because as a small business owner I’m not in a position to give them a big pay to rise to help them. 

“It’s such a difficult situation for parents and for employers and we definitely need to do more. Hopefully something will change.” 

It’s clear that Ashleigh’s comments have struck a chord with many. 

There is a chink of light in that Northern Ireland is likely to receive a proportion of the funding required to fund the free childcare programme in England. 

However, there is currently no Executive in place to rubberstamp such a scheme and no guarantee that our politicians would agree to use the money in such a way. 

It would be more than a shame if something isn’t done to address the situation. 

As it stands, mums who go back to work after maternity leave face crippling financial penalties. 

For some the cost is too much and they’re forced out of the workforce altogether despite their skills and experience. 

Under the current system, families suffer, women suffer and so too does the economy. Everyone loses out. 

A few weeks after International Women’s Day and just days before we celebrate all our wonderful mummies and everything they do for us, it’s time to do better for them.