Campaigner of the Year

Joeli Brearley

They have had a mighty impact on our understanding of just how much women who are pregnant and new mothers are suffering during this pandemic.

The Campaigner

Joeli Brearley started campaigning for the rights of working mums in 2015, after facing pregnancy discrimination from an employer, a children’s charity, who sacked Joeli the day after she announced she was expecting her first child.

Joeli founded Pregnant Then Screwed, initially as a place for women to tell their stories of pregnancy and maternity discrimination anonymously. Since then, it has recruited dozens of volunteers and four employees, and has supported thousands of women with free advice.

In a Parliamentary debate, Stella Creasy MP summed up the impact of Pregnant Then Screwed under Joeli in 2020. She said, ‘As a small operation, they have had a mighty impact on our understanding of just how much women who are pregnant and new mothers are suffering during this pandemic. The work they have done to uncover the inequalities and the impact of legislation, or lack of impact, has been absolutely staggering.

The Change

During the pandemic, Pregnant then Screwed influenced the Government, NHS and society to properly consider pregnant women and mothers. Their wins include:

  • People being allowed to form childcare bubbles so families could continue using informal childcare to work
  • Exempting under-fives from the two-person cap for meeting outdoors
  • Hospitals lifting restrictions on partners attending hospital appointments and childbirths
  • Parents on low incomes receiving £500 if their child has to isolate
  • New guidelines on the government website for pregnant women, to ensure their employer keeps them safe
  • Lobbying the British Medical Association to ensure breastfeeding women have an informed choice as to whether they should take the vaccine
  • Frontpage and headline coverage in the Guardian and Mail on Sunday, as well as 24 mentions in Parliament.

Joeli’s advice for anyone looking to create change is:

Ask everyone you have ever met for help. Ask those you have never met for help.

  • It can take years, so find a way to be sustainable or you will run out of steam. Figure out a financial model – it could be crowdfunding, it could be selling merchandise, it could be delivering training on the issue you are campaigning on, or being paid to speak at events. Don’t be afraid to ask for money, campaigning is hard work and you deserve to be paid
  • Use social media to share your message and connect with your beneficiaries. It will take a while for you to build a following but it is worth your time. Be accessible and inclusive, always.
  • People will disagree with you and you will get trolled. Don’t get into this game if you want to be liked by everyone
  • Be brave and be radical. There are lots of campaigns out there so you have to cut through the noise.


The Future

In January 2021, Pregnant Then Screwed took the Government to court for the way that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme had been calculated, which was resulting in sex discrimination by giving reduced payments to women who had taken maternity leave. The case was unsuccessful, but they’re appealing that decision.

There is still lots more to do. As furlough draws to a close it is likely we will see a large number of pregnant women and mothers made redundant and, as society opens up, pregnant women will need greater support to keep themselves safe, as we still don’t know if the vaccine is safe for them and their baby.

Who else was involved?