A women’s charity yesterday started suing Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for discrimination in the implementation of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
The action is being taken by Pregnant Then Screwed.
One of its members is Olga Fitzroy, the Labour Party parliamentary candidate in Croydon South at last December’s General Election and a campaigner on the rights of freelancers and the self-employed, many of whom have been particularly hard-hit by the impact of the covid-19 lockdown.
According to the charity, the government says that it is acting within the law to treat maternity leave just as if it is a period of reduced or non-trading for any other reason, like going on holiday.
Pregnant Then Screwed says that this is both insulting and unlawful.
With support from leading legal firms Doughty Street Chambers and Leigh Day, papers were served at No11 Downing Street yesterday.
“When questioned in Parliament, the Chancellor stated that maternity leave is the same as any other leave,” said Joeli Brearley, the founder of Pregnant Then Screwed.
“If this is not 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 among the 54,000 per year who are pushed out of their jobs for daring to procreate, according to Pregnant The Screwed.
“They often become self-employed as many of the jobs in our labour market don’t work for people with caring responsibilities,” Brearley said. “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 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.
Pregnant Then Screwed are asking the Chancellor to take immediate steps to change the SEISS so that time taken for maternity leave is discounted when average earnings are calculated.
The government updated the guidance from HM Revenue and Customs on July 2 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 it still didn’t fix the problem for self-employed women who had taken maternity leave in the last three years. Pregnant The Screwed says that this “is essentially admitting there is a problem with the method of calculating the scheme, but not fixing it”.
The legal challenge is being supported by the Federation of Entertainment Unions and Community Union who all have a high proportion of self-employed members. It is also supported by Sweet Cecily, a pioneering natural skincare company.
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