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International Day of Families: Recognising Those Falling Through Gaps in the Government’s Response

MU Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Official John Shortell highlights “the impact Coronavirus is having on those with families and how the Government’s response to the pandemic, especially in relation to freelancers with families, reinforces disadvantages.”

Published: 01 May 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:30 PM
Parents giving their kids piggybacks
“While the MU welcomes the support the Government has provided to some of our members, there are still huge gaps in the response which must be addressed”. Photo credit: Shutterstock

International Day of Families, which will be on 15 May, is a day to promote awareness of issues relating to families, in all of their forms. While the MU welcomes the support the Government has provided to some of our members, there are still huge gaps in the response which must be addressed to stop people, especially women and those who have taken time out of their careers to care for their families, falling into poverty.

Way before we’d even heard of Coronavirus, socio-economic issues and inequalities existed that meant certain groups, such as women, BAME communities and disabled people were much more likely to live in poverty.

The MU have been very vocal about women being penalised for starting families and how current provisions for self-employed parents are woefully inadequate. Issues such as maternity leave and pay, as it applies to the self-employed, childcare being prohibitively expensive for most of our members and extending Shared Parental Leave to freelancers are just some of the issues we raised at this year’s TUC Women’s Conference.

Existing rights

It’s important to point out at the very beginning of this blog that existing laws on your rights during pregnancy and maternity leave still apply during the Coronavirus crisis.

If you qualify, you are still entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay and you’re still protected against unfair treatment, dismissal and being selected for furloughing or redundancy if it’s because of your pregnancy and maternity.

There have been no changes to the legislation that protect you from discrimination.

If you think you are being treated unfairly because you are pregnant, on maternity leave or you have caring responsibilities, please contact your regional office for advice and support.

Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and Maternity Allowance

The calculation of income for the current Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is based on earnings over the last three years, or if you haven’t submitted self-assessment tax returns for all three years, then the average trading profit based on continuous periods of self-employment.

People who have taken time out of work to look after their families, which will be predominately women, are not allowed to discount this from the calculation period and, in many cases, it will dramatically reduce their average earnings per year.

The current scheme does not identify differences in why people may have taken time off, this means that those who have taken time off to care for their families in the past three years will see a negative impact on the amount of support they receive. This will have a disproportionate effect on women, because women are more likely to have caring responsibilities, and especially mothers who have taken maternity leave.

Pregnant mothers and new parents are usually under an extraordinary amount of pressure financially anyway, especially when one or both of the parents are self-employed. The Governments response to COVID-19 fails to recognise this and will further disadvantage new parents.

Women and people who have taken time out of work to take care of their families must not face lower support. The MU is lobbying the government so that the period that is used for calculation of the SEISS excludes any period of maternity, parental, or paternity leave.

Universal Credit and Maternity Allowance

Universal Credit has many issues. It’s an unfair, inadequate system that pushes people further into poverty and disadvantages some of the most vulnerable people in society. As more and more people try to claim Universal Credit whilst they wait for payments from the government’s SEISS to start, more issues are being highlighted to wider groups of people.

One issue for self-employed mothers and their families is that UC treats Maternity Allowance (MA) paid by the DWP as, “unearned income”, which means it’s included in the way benefit payments are calculated and is deducted from a UC payment. However Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which is paid by employers, is treated as ‘earnings’ and does not impact the amount of UC payment. Self-employed women can only claim MA.

It’s worth remembering that SMP and MA exist for the same reason, to allow women to take time off work to recover from giving birth and to look after their baby. The brilliant Maternity Action have calculated that women on MA who apply for Universal Credit end up more than £4,100 worse off than women on SMP. That is a huge amount for new parents who are being treated unfairly because they are self-employed and have decided to start a family.

Rectifying this disadvantage would not be a massive cost to the Government but would make a massive difference to new mothers and their families.

These are just some of the issues with the Government’s response to Coronavirus and highlights how little regard this government has for new parents and self-employed workers.

Meeting the specific needs of pregnant women, new parents and the most vulnerable in society must be a priority for the government and should form an integral part of the Government’s response to coronavirus. Unfortunately, so far these things have been an afterthought.

Take action for musicians

Write to your MP now. Personal stories really do help – they show MPs the truth of the situation and give them case studies to show Government that it is urgent. 

You can already see the impact that you’ve made in calling on Government to provide financial relief for the self-employed. Now we need to make sure that all self-employed musicians are truly covered.

We have the full details on how to email your MP, including a template letter if you’re not sure how to get started.

Take action now

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