It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. Fifty years ago this summer, my mum left her job with Brighton Borough Council in Royal York Buildings on the Steine to deal with the small matter of my arrival. It would be another seven years before statutory maternity leave was introduced, and 15 more before all women qualified by right, so she had little option.
The NHS was still less than 20 years old when my mum availed herself of its maternity and midwifery services. Southlands Hospital in Shoreham was the preferred option for Hove residents, the high rise modernity of the Thomas Kemp tower at the Sussex County being still in the early stages of construction. My mum would be an increasingly frequent visitor there and to other local NHS hospitals during the remaining 35 years of her life.
It wasn’t long before she returned to part-time employment, so in the absence of childcare I was looked after by a member of my grandfather’s extended family who lived a few doors away in Poets Corner.
She had spent her life “in service”, as one of domestic staff familiar from TV dramas like Downton Abbey, never having children of her own, never having access to the free healthcare that could have corrected her curved spine. Her older sister, who could talk about growing up in rural Sussex during World War One, lived her whole life in Partridge Green, never once leaving it.
In just a few generations life has changed enormously for women, with access to rights and healthcare, education and employment opportunities that were unimaginable to those women, born in the Victorian era, and scarcely on the horizon for women like my mum, born at the close of World War Two. These rights and opportunities, free healthcare and childcare, were not enshrined into law without long struggles and campaigns that too many women did not live to see succeed. These are rights that must be protected, these are services that must be defended, these are equalities hard won that cannot be lost.
On Mother’s Day I thank the women, mothers or not, who helped raise me, and the women who over the past century have fought for and secured those rights and services we must all preserve for generations to come. Happy Mother’s Day.
Warren Morgan is the Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.