The UK Government may have to award a rebate to tens of thousands of self-employed women after being accused of discriminating against them for taking maternity leave. The case is based on the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), launched alongside the Furlough scheme after the outbreak of Covid-19, which based support grants on average profits between 2016-2019.
Because it’s based on average profits with no consideration for other factors, around 75,000 self-employed women who took maternity leave since 2016 had reduced grants because of periods over the last few years where they weren’t earning as much due to pregnancy or maternity leave.
The charity Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS) is bringing a judicial review against the government for indirect sexual discrimination. The claim is that the SEISS calculations breached the anti-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act to consider the position of women who did not or could not work for maternity or pregnancy related reasons.
One of the cases cited was a woman who started working again after having her third child shortly before the Covid-19 outbreak and only received a third of what she would normally earn through the SEISS scheme. This was a stark contrast to her male partner, also self-employed, who received a full grant.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, defended the scheme, saying that self-employed people had “ups and downs” in earnings for “all sorts of reasons”. His statement was swiftly rebuffed by PTS:
“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.”
Mr Sunak was backed up by a spokesperson from the Treasury who defended SEISS as “one of the most generous” schemes of its kind in the world.
Because of the recency and context of SEISS, this case poses an interesting situation and will set an extremely important precedent for workers’ and women’s rights. Our team of expert employment solicitors will certainly be watching this one unfold keenly. If you have any questions about your rights in the workplace, or are self-employed and would like legal advice, our team is just a message or phone call away.