Harriet Harman has called on the chancellor to close gaps in financial support that leave pregnant women and new parents vulnerable during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Camberwell and Peckham MP and chair of parliament’s Human Rights Committee wrote to Rishi Sunak this week, asking him to fully cover pregnant women and new parents in government guidance.
Although there is no evidence that COVID-19 is particularly harmful to expectant mums, pregnant women are classed as a vulnerable group and have been advised to self-isolate for twelve weeks along with elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions.
Although the government’s job retention scheme – where staff can be put on ‘furlough’ with 80 per cent of their wages paid by the government during the crisis – has had a huge take-up Harman says there have been cases of pregnant women kept on statutory sick pay instead. This amounts to just £95.85 per week.
Campaigning group Maternity Action has also reported some cases of women being paid statutory maternity pay at 80 per cent normal rate, instead of being furloughed.
We've written to Chancellor @RishiSunak & other ministers for a second time, urging prompt action to address discriminatory gaps in the #COVID19 support schemes for employees & the self-employed in relation to pregnant women & new parents. #ukemplaw #HRhttps://t.co/YdLtVARnem
— Maternity Action (@MaternityAction) April 11, 2020
Another grey area that could be exploited by employers is the income support scheme for the self-employed. So far, information released by the government does not take into account parental leave. It is unclear if maternity or other types of leave would be included as ‘continuous employment’.
“It is also unclear how Maternity Allowance will be treated under the self-employed income support scheme. Can you provide clarification that a self-employed woman will not be disqualified from the scheme if she is eligible for Maternity Allowance during this period,” Harman requested.
Campaigning group Maternity Action has put together this Q&A based on the latest information published by the government, explaining pregnant women’s rights. Its team has also warned that women receiving Maternity Allowance will face more difficulty claiming Universal Credit.
In a letter to the chancellor this week, the group said: “Under the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, Maternity Allowance is treated as ‘unearned income’ and is deducted pound for pound, whereas statutory maternity pay (and also Statutory Sick Pay) is treated as ‘earnings’ and is largely disregarded under the Work Allowance and 63 per cent taper.
“This inequitable treatment of Maternity Allowance can result in women losing out on Universal Credit altogether. In 2019, more than half of all women granted Maternity Allowance also applied for Universal Credit, and in the current circumstances that proportion is likely to increase.
“A fair approach would ensure that Maternity Allowance is treated in the same way as statutory maternity pay is currently under the Universal Credit regulations.”