Government sued over impact of self employed scheme on women on maternity leave

Charity Pregnant Then Screwed is taking legal action against the Chancellor claiming discrimination in the way the self employment income protection scheme does not exempt  periods of maternity leave from eligibility criteria.

Maternity Leave Letter - pregnant mum working on a laptop

Once you have decided when you take maternity leave, you will have to send a letter to your employer

A leading campaign group is taking legal action against the Government alleging discrimination over the self-employment income protection scheme.

Pregnant Then Screwed, with support from Doughty Street Chambers and law firm Leigh Day, has issued legal proceedings against the Chancellor for discriminating against women in the implementation of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

Pregnant Then Screwed says that, following exchanges with the Government’s legal team through pre-action protocol letters, the Government has suggested that it is lawful to treat maternity-related leave as being no different to a period of reduced or no trading for any other reason, such as ill-health or to go on holiday. Pregnant Then Screwed says this is both insulting and potentially unlawful.

Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed said: “The Chancellor stated that maternity leave is the same as any other leave when questioned on this in Parliament. It is now clear from our exchange with the Government’s legal team that this is their firm position. If this standpoint is not queried, and ultimately overturned, it sets a very dangerous precedent. Giving birth and raising the next generation is not an illness, it is critical work for a well-functioning society. Both men and women get sick and go on holiday, only women take maternity leave.

“Many of the women affected by this method of calculating the SEISS, will be amongst the 54,000 per year who are pushed out of their job for daring to procreate. They become self-employed as many of the jobs in our labour market don’t work for people with caring responsibilities. These vulnerable new mums are therefore facing discrimination by employers and now they are facing discrimination by our Government. We are not standing for it any longer.’’

Anna Dews of Leigh Day Solicitors said: “For decades, legislators and the Courts have recognised that women require specific protection during periods of maternity leave. Despite that, the Chancellor has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the discrimination that is being caused by the way in which the SEISS is currently being implemented.”

SEISS was introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in April 2020, to support self-employed workers whose trade has been adversely affected by Covid-19. The eligibility conditions and calculation method chosen by the Chancellor  do not exempt periods of maternity leave. It is calculated that 86,640 may have been affected. Pregnant Then Screwed wants time taken for maternity leave to be discounted when average earnings are calculated.

On the 2nd July, the Government updated the guidance from HMRC about how the SEISS would be calculated. The new guidance fixed the eligibility issue for women who had a dip in income in 2018 – 2019 and for those who did not fill in a tax return for 2018 – 2019, but Pregnant Then Screwed says it still didn’t fix the problem for all self-employed women who had taken maternity leave in the last three years.

The legal challenge is being supported by the Federation of Entertainment Unions and Community Union and by skincare company Sweet Cecily.

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