Modern woman working with child. Multi tasking freelance and motherhood concept

Claims for the third Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant have closed and the government will give details for the fourth grant on 3 March 2021.

SEISS is meant to support self-employed individuals struggling because of the pandemic and has made a difference in the lives of many freelancers and contractors. However, the government has also come under fire for the way SEISS is calculated, with many claiming it’s unfair and discriminatory towards mothers.

As contractor accountants, we’re always on top of the latest news, and we believe that self-employed individuals should also be aware of government rules and legislation and how they can be impacted by them.

How is SEISS Calculated?

The amount of support given out by SEISS is 80% of people’s average monthly profits made between 2016 and 2019 – however, the payments for the 75,000 women who took maternity leave during that time are lowered to reflect the leave, and campaigners are accusing the government of indirect sexual discrimination and of violating the Human Rights Act.

Still, the government believes this three-year average is the best – and fairest – way of figuring out the income of a self-employed worker, as shown in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s grant announcement: “people have ups and downs and variations in their earnings, whether through maternity, ill-health or others.

“What we have done to deal with it is to provide an average of income up to three years on a look back basis to smooth those ups and downs in all people’s incomes.”

Why was SEISS Calculation Considered Discriminatory?

The main reason why the way SEISS is calculated is seen as discriminatory is because women who had children during the three years SEISS is calculated had their payments reduced when compared to their partners, who also became parents but who received the full grant.

Tens of thousands of women are thought to have lost out on a good proportion of the money, and sought reparation for this oversight. This is especially important because many are in a vulnerable position, finding themselves as new parents while struggling to make ends meet.

Government Taken to Court

The charity Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS) was created to combat issues affecting pregnant women and working mothers and brought a judicial review against the government for indirect sexual discrimination.

The founder and CEO of PTS, Joeli Brearley, said that “giving birth and caring for the next generation, particularly in a baby’s first year of life, is work. It is mentally and physically exhausting work. 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.”

Campaigners believe they’ve been penalised for having children, and that SEISS calculations go against the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.

Young mom working and holding child in the office

The Case Results

Unfortunately, the court rejected the charity’s discrimination case, saying there was no unlawful discrimination in regard to the SEISS grant.

In response to the case results, Brearley said: “We are extremely disappointed that this legal challenge was unsuccessful. Reading the verdict, we feel that there are serious legal errors and find the judgment to be fundamentally flawed.

“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. How a judge could consider this not to be discrimination has really shocked all of us.”

Had the government lost, it would have had to give out rebates to, at least, 75,000 self-employed women. The government continues to say its support of self-employed individuals is among the most generous in the world, as they’ve invested £280 billion to help jobs and businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.

Many disagree, of course, especially those who say this court case was about defending women’s rights as well – due to this, a lot of people believe the government doesn’t value motherhood above the bare minimum.

As sole trader accountants, we aim to help self-employed men and women as much as possible, from helping them maximise their profits to helping them figure out their rights and responsibilities.

If you’d like more information about the government’s grants, whether you’re eligible and how you can benefit, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 0330 024 0406 today. Our specialist accountants are always on hand to answer your most pressing questions.