A new £1m programme of independent research, to examine the extent of pregnancy discrimination in the UK and its effect on both families and the economy, has been given the go ahead today by Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller.
Over nine thousand pregnancy discrimination claims have been brought against UK employers since 2007, and it has been nearly ten years since the last full study found that being pregnant cost families nearly £12 million pounds a year in lost maternity pay as women were fired before they were entitled to claim.
The report highlighted that half of all pregnant women in Great Britain experienced some form of disadvantage at work, simply for being pregnant or taking maternity leave, with 30,000 women saying they had been forced out of their jobs.
Since then pregnant women and working parents have been given greater rights at work through things like, an extension of statutory maternity leave and pay, the right to request flexible working and paid time off to attend hospital and doctors’ appointments, but there is still concern that pregnancy discrimination remains a prevalent issue in the workplace and more needs to be done to tackle it.
Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller said:
It’s unacceptable that women suffer from discrimination when they become pregnant and yet many are saying that they are treated unfairly at work because of it.
I am determined that we tackle these systemic problems which leave women feeling undervalued and penalised. We have made some significant changes to help women at work but there is more to do. This new research will be crucial in helping us to understand the extent of the problem and the issues around it.
This significant programme of work was proposed and will be carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The Commission will also help women by running an education campaign aimed at employees and employers to raise their awareness of pregnancy and maternity discrimination rights and obligations.
The EHRC CEO Mark Hammond said:
This is an important issue and this work, along with the other efforts being made to tackle pregnancy discrimination, will reduce the chances of women being unfairly penalised.
The announcement comes as the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) marked its first year of operation. 1 in 20 cases handled by the new service have been from people contacting them about pregnancy discrimination.
The EASS was set up by government in 2012 to offer free advice and support and where possible the service seeks to resolve issues informally, but can also offer referrals to mediation or conciliation or help to start a legal claim if necessary.