Coronavirus: “I am penalized because I took maternity leave”

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Lucy Baker and her baby

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Lucy Baker

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Lucy Baker took six months off at the birth of her baby in 2018


Like many people, independent trusted coach Lucy Baker found that when the coronavirus struck, her work suddenly had to stop.

“I haven’t earned a penny in more than six weeks,” she says. “I had booked events and planned individual coaching sessions, but everything dissolved, practically overnight. “

When she heard the Chancellor’s announcement that those who worked for themselves would receive financial support, she was hopeful.

But soon, she began to wonder what it would mean to her, since she had taken six months off when her baby was born in 2018.

Under the Self-Employed Income Support Program (SEISS), the government will provide self-employed workers with subsidies equal to 80% of their average earnings, up to £ 2,500, for three months.

Average earnings are calculated based on the company’s last three years’ tax returns – but the time taken for maternity leave during this period is not discounted, which lowers the average.

“When you sit down to the details, it’s pretty disappointing,” she says. “It’s like something they just didn’t think about, and I feel like I’m being penalized for having free time for having a baby. “

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled support for the self-employed in March


The SEISS was unveiled by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last month, a few days after the announcement of 80% wage subsidies for employees. The first payments are expected to arrive in personal bank accounts directly from the HMRC in June.

It is open to anyone earning up to £ 50,000 a year, which would represent up to 3.8 million of the five million people registered in the UK as self-employed.

At the time, the Chancellor said it had been “difficult” to develop a viable program because the self-employed were a “diverse population”.

He acknowledged that some people – like those who had only recently become self-employed – would miss out, but stressed that 95% of the self-employed will be covered by the scheme.

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Kirstie Bridgwater

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Kirstie Bridgwater has been self-employed for 15 years


Although the grants have been welcomed, sports therapist Kirstie Bridgwater of Tavistock, Devon feels the timing is particularly bad for her.

She has been self-employed for 15 years, works in hotels and with sports teams and runs her own clinic. But she was on maternity leave in two of the last three fiscal years – so her average earnings will be much lower than that of a typical month of work.

“I know it was my choice to have children,” she said, “but no one expected it. “

With her youngest daughter to start crèche, she was about to increase her hours again after working part-time. “I really worry because I think mine may be one of the last professions that can be safely returned to work. It’s a very worrying time financially. “

She says she would like the government to examine a business over a longer period of time to establish what an average income would be.

“If they looked at the past 10 years, they would see that the past three years were not normal for me,” she said. “Many moms are self-employed – and with a young dependent family, we need support more than ever. “

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Media captionCoronavirus: should maternity and paternity leave be extended?

Activists say the issue of maternity leave – which is not reported on the self-assessment forms – needs to be addressed.

“The Chancellor must urgently close the loophole in the self-employment income support program that discriminates against new mothers,” said Olga Fitzroy of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed.

Almost 6,000 people signed her online petition asking the Chancellor to allow mothers to calculate their average earnings without having to include maternity leave in the calculation.

“Employees with children will be put on leave based on salary, not maternity pay – the same rules should apply to the self-employed. Now is not the time to penalize families with young children, “said Fitzroy.

Pregnant Then Screwed estimates that about 80,000 self-employed workers have taken maternity leave in the past three years.

Asked about the matter by the Special Committee on the Treasury last week, the Chancellor replied, “There is no way for the HMRC to know the reasons why people’s profits may have declined in previous years from their declarations of income tax self-assessment.

“However, to help those with volatile income in 2018/19, you can determine your eligibility either on your profits in 2018/19, or on average between 2016/17 and 2018/19. “

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Rebecca Coldicott

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Rebecca Coldicott has experienced “huge swings” in income over the past three years


But Rebecca Coldicott, an independent marketing consultant in Birmingham, says it is of little use to her after having had two children in the past three years.

She added that the government could find out who had been on maternity leave if it wanted to, because it knows who asked for maternity allowance – the money that self-employed workers receive when they have free time for work. children.

“There have been huge fluctuations in my income in the past three years,” she said. “I know it might be difficult to understand, but it would be nice if they could take into account the situation of people rather than just using a computer to find a number. “

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