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Campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed claimed the government has suggested it is lawful to treat maternity-related leave as being no different to “a period of reduced or no trading”, such as ill-health or to go on holiday. The charity, which campaigns for equality for pregnant women, said that the government’s position was “both insulting and unlawful”.
SEISS was introduced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak in April to support self-employed workers whose businesses have been adversely affected by COVID-19.
But Pregnant Then Screwed claims the eligibility conditions and calculation method chosen by the Chancellor have a discriminatory effect on women as they do not exempt periods of maternity leave.
They said 86,640 women were affected by this exemption.
The founder of the charity said they were now pressing forward with legal proceedings to ask that a “judge rule on such a statement”.
Joeli Brearley 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.
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“Both men and women get sick and go on holiday, only women take maternity leave.”
Recent research undertaken by the charity also found one in four pregnant NHS workers were required to work with COVID-19 patients despite pregnant women being highly vulnerable to the virus.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Maria Miller has introduced a new bill to Parliament to protect women and new mothers after concerns were raised that a large number were being made redundant due to the coronavirus crisis.
The bill aims to bolster legal protections to safeguard pregnant women and new mothers from being made redundant.
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Ms Brearly added: “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.’’
The charity is being represented by Doughty Street Chambers and law firm Leigh Day.
Rosalind Bragg, Director of Maternity Action, added to Express.co.uk: “It is disappointing that women are forced to pursue legal action to get the Government to take the needs of pregnant women and new mothers seriously.
“The Government should have thought through the implications for parents when they were designing the schemes.
The Government have since updated the guidance from HMRC about how the SEISS would be calculated last week and 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 the same year.
However, the charity said that it still didn’t fix the problem for all self-employed women who had taken maternity leave in the last three years.
In response, a HM Treasury spokesman said: “Our Self Employment Income Support Scheme is one of the most generous in the world and has helped more than 2.7 million people so far.
“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.
“The scheme also calculates the grant on a three-year average of profit, to ensure the grant better reflects their income.
“Those who do not qualify will be able to access our wide range of other support that is helping people who have been affected by coronavirus– including income tax deferrals, £1 billion more support for renters, access to three-month mortgage holidays, business rates relief, grants, and bounce back loans, which provide support that is interest-free for the first 12 months.”
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