Charity Loses Case Arguing Covid Scheme Discriminated Against Working Mothers

Pregnant Then Screwed argued the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme meant less support for women who had recently had children.
Lawyers for the charity argued that the policy is discriminatory
Lawyers for the charity argued that the policy is discriminatory
Getty

A charity supporting self-employed women has lost a legal challenge arguing the government’s Covid financial support scheme has had a “disproportionately prejudicial effect” on working mothers.

The group said it was considering its options for appeal, claiming there had been “serious legal errors” following the judgment at the High Court on Wednesday.

Mrs Justice Whipple said she did not deem the matter to be indirectly discriminatory and that it imposed no hidden barriers to eligibility.

In her judgment, she said: “The same rule applies to all and it is no harder for a woman who has been on maternity leave to qualify or calculate their payment than someone who has not. The fact that some claimants will receive lower payments than others reflects the fact of lower earnings in past years.”

The charity said the judgment was “fundamentally flawed”

Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of the charity said the ruling contained “serious legal errors” and an appeal was being considered.

“We are, of course, deeply concerned for the vulnerable new mothers who have had a much reduced payment compared to their male and childless counterparts, and are now really struggling over the winter period,” Brearley said. “How a judge could consider this not to be discrimination has really shocked all of us.”

Pregnant Then Screwed brought legal action against the Treasury over its Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (Seiss) – introduced last year to help self-employed workers affected by the pandemic – arguing that it is discriminatory and breaches equality laws.

The judge added: “The Chancellor was not in breach of the public sector equality duty because he did have due regard to the plight of women who had recently been on maternity leave.”

Lawyers for the charity argued that the policy is discriminatory
Lawyers for the charity argued that the policy is discriminatory
Getty

The charity says that, due to the way Seiss grants are calculated, tens of thousands of women have received lower payments than those whose average income was unaffected by maternity-related leave.

Seiss payments are assessed based on average monthly profits over the previous three tax years – effectively between 2016 and 2019 – and worth up to £2,500 a month.

At a remote hearing in January, lawyers for the charity argued that the policy is indirectly discriminatory because women who earned less simply because they were on maternity leave would now be seen as having lower average incomes. Instead, they said, periods of maternity leave should have been exempted from the calculation.