75 thousand women are suing the Government over maternity leave discrimination - what you need to know

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 2:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st January 2021, 2:57 pm
75 thousand women are suing the Government over maternity leave discrimination - what you need to know (Photo: Shutterstock)

The UK Government has been taken to court after tens of thousands of self employed women who took maternity leave say they were discriminated against.

Throughout the pandemic, around 75,000 women who took maternity leave between 2016 and 2019 lost out on earnings because of the way the Government’s Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is calculated.

Thousands of women were left with less money to live off throughout the pandemic, after calculations in the SEISS didn’t consider periods out of work for maternity leave and pregnancy.

The charity Pregnant then Screwed (PTS) has taken the Government to court for indirect sexual discriministion, saying it breached the anti-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act, failing to consider the positon of women who were unable to or did not work because of pregnancy or maternity-related reasons.

The Government would be forced to award rebates if the court case is won by PTS.

What is SEISS?

SEISS can be claimed by self employed workers who have seen their income affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

SEISS was introduced alongside the furlough scheme last year, with the payments calculated by taking into account 80 per cent of self employed profits.

However, the payments did not exempt periods of time when self employed women were on maternity leave, so not earning money, and also did not take into account statutory maternity payments.

What is the case against the Government?

PTS started legal proceedings after the Chancellor was asked why he had not exempted periods of maternity leave from the self employed grant calculations.

Rishi Sunak said at the time: “For all sorts of reasons people have ups and downs and variations in their earnings, whether through maternity, ill-health or others.’’

CEO and founder of PTS, Joeli Brearley, said: “Giving birth and caring for the next generation, particularly in a baby’s first year of life, is work; it is mentally and physically exhausting work. Not only that but ensuring the next generation survives and thrives is surely the most important job there is.

“For maternity leave to be dismissed as the same as being sick or taking a sabbatical is not only insulting, but it sends out a very dangerous message about how this government views mothers and the integral role we play in a well-functioning society.”

Brearley has said that SEISS calculations breached the anti-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act and the requirement in the Equality Act, failing to consider the positon of women who were unable to or did not work because of pregnancy or maternity-related reasons.

PTS will be asking Sunak to take immediate steps to change the SEISS calculation so that time taken for maternity leave is discounted.

What are the legal grounds of the court case?

The three grounds of the challenge are:

  • The SEISS calculation violates Article 14 (the right to protection from discrimination) read in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No.1 (the right to property) of the European Convention on Human Rights
  • The SEISS calculation clause breaches section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 by indirectly discriminating against women who have taken maternity leave
  • The Chancellor has not complied with the public sector equality duty imposed by s.149 Equality Act 2010. In particular, the Chancellor has failed to give “due regard” to the impact that the SEISS eligibility conditions and calculation clause have on women

A spokesperson from the Treasury said SEISS was “one of the most generous” schemes of its type in the world.

They added: “We understand the challenges for new parents who are self-employed - and even if a new parent did not submit their tax return for 2018-19, they may still be eligible and able to claim for a grant using their self-assessment returns from previous years.”