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Pregnant Then Screwed takes first step towards legal action against COVID-19 self-employment scheme

Campaigning charity Pregnant Then Screwed have written to the Chancellor to argue that the current Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) discriminates against women.

Woman working with child on knee

11 June 2020

The charity claims that the scheme is discriminatory because it does not exempt periods of maternity leave from eligibility conditions and when calculating trading profits. The scheme was introduced in April to support self-employed workers during the coronavirus pandemic and provides a payment of 80% of average earnings over 3 years, capped at £7,500.
 
Self-employed women who have not carried on trading due to maternity leave in the tax years 2018/19 or 2019/20 are excluded from SEISS altogether. Women who have carried on a reduced or no trade during maternity between the tax years 2016/2017 and 2018/2019 leave receive a lower SEISS payment by reason of their pregnancy and maternity.
 
In the pre-action protocol letter sent to the Chancellor, Pregnant Then Screwed argue that the SEISS is unlawful on a number of grounds including that it indirectly discriminates against women who have taken maternity leave and, alternatively, discriminates against women who have taken maternity leave by failing to treat their situation differently to people who have not. They believe this is in breach of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also believe that the scheme breaches section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 by indirectly discriminating against women who have taken maternity leave. Lastly the group argue that the Chancellor failed to give due regard to the impact the SEISS eligibility conditions would have on women, thereby breaching his duty under s.149 of the Equalities Act 2010.
 
Pregnant Then Screwed believe that almost 70,000 women are affected by the scheme, which was implemented on 30 April 2020, and they are asking the Chancellor to take immediate steps to amend the SEISS so that time taken for maternity leave is discounted.
 
A response has been requested by 4pm on 12 June 2020. If no satisfactory response is received the group will consider commencing judicial review proceedings.
 
Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed said:

“The Chancellor has failed to consider the disproportionately negative impact on vulnerable new mothers when setting up this scheme. Rishi Sunak has been questioned on this in Parliament, but he continues to ignore the problem. We have spoken to so many women about this topic, they are angry, they are in financial hardship and they are struggling to understand why they aren’t being listened to. The Government is not fulfilling their public sector equality duty. It is important that they are held to account for this. It is imperative these new mothers are given a voice.’’
 
Anna Dews of Leigh Day Solicitors said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health crisis that affects everyone. Its impact, however, is not equal. Our existing health and socio-economic inequalities mean women in particular are bearing the brunt of this health emergency in many different ways. The financial support package put in place by the government must not add to this negative impact. Our client is calling for its immediate reform and for its current discriminatory approach to be removed.”
 
Pregnant Then Screwed is being represented by Rosa Curling and Anna Dews of law firm Leigh Day along with Jude Bunting, Clare Duffy and Donnchadh Greene of Doughty Street Chambers.

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