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.
AN UPDATE ON OUR LEGAL CHALLENGE
We are incredibly disappointed to have lost our legal challenge against the Government for discrimination due to the way the SEISS has been calculated. You can now read the judgment here. 1/#SEISS#ExcludedUK
— PregnantThenScrewed (@PregnantScrewed) February 17, 2021
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.”
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.”
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.