"The reality is women have been forgotten at every twist and turn in this pandemic. The consequences have been devastating"
This week we interview the founder and CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed, Joeli Brearley
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Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of The Freelance Parent. First things first, I hope you’re doing ok. If you had a shocker last week, you really aren’t alone. Last week was one of the worst I’ve had in any of the lockdowns. I’d really had enough.
My son wasn’t at nursery as he didn’t feel well, and boy did he let me know that he was as fed up with everything as I was. After his lunch was thrown at the wall for the second time that day, I lost my rag. I felt claustrophobic, miserable and just really sick and tired of everything.
“When will this end!” I screamed at my husband - who had been on a conference call for the last three hours - before slamming the front door and storming off to Costa.
My son? Well he now keeps bringing the incident up by saying ‘Mummy, Angry. Roar. Big bang. Shut door”. They really know how to make you feel guilty don’t they?
In recognition of the difficulties we are all facing as freelance parents right now, I want to try and make each newsletter as helpful to you as possible. And who could be more helpful to working parents than the brilliant founder and CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed, Joeli Brearley? Joeli and her team campaigns fearlessly for the rights of working mothers and provides the most up-to-date information on working rights. In our chat, she talks about many vital issues facing many of us, including what you should do if you’ve been unfairly discriminated against by an employer after becoming a parent, Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) payments and the way they discriminate against mothers, and why you may have more rights than you think as a self-employed person.
So without further ado, let’s get to the interview. I hope you get through this week as well as you can and don’t forget to let go of the guilt. You’re doing as best as you can.
Until next time.
THE INTERVIEW: FOUNDER AND CEO OF PREGNANT THEN SCREWED, JOELI BREARLEY
What originally inspired you to form Pregnant Then Screwed and did you expect it to grow into such a powerful team achieving such huge things for women?
JOELI: “Two days after I told my employer that I was pregnant with my first child, I was sacked by voicemail. I was four months pregnant and unemployed with bills to pay. I was furious. I knew it was wrong and I considered legal action, but then I found out I was having an extremely high-risk pregnancy and could go into labour at any moment. I needed to avoid stress at all costs so I had to leave it. And it ate away at me, until I spoke to other mothers once my son arrived and found out how many other women had had similar experiences. It wasn't just me”.
“I started Pregnant Then Screwed on International Women's Day in 2015. At first I just wanted a place where women could share their stories, to get it out in the open, to give this injustice a voice. But no, I could never have predicted the journey that we have been on, and the impact we have had”.
Your legal case against the Chancellor addresses the fact that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) discriminates against women in the way it is calculated. How has this discrimination affected mothers and pregnant women?
JOELI: “It's affected the lives of so many pregnant women in such devastating ways. Many of the women affected by this method of calculating the SEISS, will be amongst the 54000 per year who are pushed out of their jobs for daring to procreate. We know that 75,000 women have been directly impacted by these calculations which is shocking. They become self-employed as many of the jobs in our labour market don’t work for people with caring responsibilities. These vulnerable new mums are therefore facing discrimination by employers and now they are facing discrimination by our Government. It's absolutely awful for so many women. We're hearing from women who are having to borrow money to make ends meet because of this shortfall”.
“The thing is, it’s not just about SEISS, it’s about how they view maternity leave - they’re classifying it as being the same as taking a sabbatical, or taking sick leave and that just can’t happen. Maternity leave has to be protected and valued; this is about a fight for the rights of brand new mothers in all their forms”.
Have you been approached by pregnant women and mothers who work as limited companies in their own right and are not entitled to the income-support grants?
JOELI: There are 3 million people that are getting nothing from the government whatsoever, and that’s just devastating for them. We know that it must be so horrendously tough to have 9 months with no income whatsoever. There are a lot of campaign groups working on this including the main one, ExcludedUK, but there are three or four in total. Tracy Brabin MP is really running with this - she wrote a 10 minute rule bill on it a couple of days ago. So, we’ve just got to be really strategic about how we use our resources because we haven’t got a huge amount; there are so many campaign groups working in that area and it’s just not something that we feel we can add value to as they're doing such a good job.
What do statistics from research conducted by Pregnant Then Screwed show about the treatment of freelance/self-employed mothers and pregnant women?
JOELI: “Often self-employed people don’t know all of their rights. If you are self-employed and you lose a job because you are pregnant, for example, there are protections for that. And they should contact us, and that’s the same for women on zero-hour contracts. They don’t have a statutory right to paid time off, to then return to work, and they don’t have a legal right to be paid when they attend antenatal appointments. We know that the gender pay gap for the self-employed is as high as 43% - which is a lot. So there is real inequality here and we believe there should be stronger legal rights for the self-employed”.
What general advice would you give parents who are unsure about their rights in terms of things such as returning to a demotion after maternity leave, or redundancy while on maternity leave?
JOELI: “Seek advice immediately. If you return after 6 months you must return to a role of the same seniority on no less pay. And if you return before 6 months, then they have to give you your exact job back. Even if after 6 months you return to a different role, you should still seek advice because it could be discrimination”.
As a mother, how has working through the pandemic been for you?
JOELI: “Bloody awful! Lockdown 1, 2, and - is it really just 3 now? - have been hard. This one feels the hardest, and I'm not sure why that is - juggling childcare and work is impossible. My sons are like magnets when I'm on a Zoom call and they are drawn to me wherever I am. They like to enter my Zoom calls, strip off and dance. Thankfully everyone has found it hilarious including a fair few MPs. The reality is women have been forgotten at every twist and turn in this pandemic - the consequences have been devastating. And so we are fighting for every injustice for women everywhere”.
What are your aims for 2021?
JOELI: “It’s a little hard to say at the moment as we have had to be reactive rather than proactive because everything has been changing so rapidly. We will keep an eye on the changes and what is disproportionality affecting mothers and do everything we can to level the playing field for them”.
“We will continue to do that until things start to get back to normal and then we will be out on the streets fighting for our rights and protections. A lot of the issues that we have seen during this pandemic are because the system isn’t set up to support working mothers in the first place. If we had a system that was better set up to support women, like other countries such as Scandinavia, for example, then we wouldn’t have seen so many inequalities”.
What advice would you give to freelance parents who can't work due to childcare issues because of schools closing?
JOELI: “If you are struggling, then our advice would be to speak to your partner, or seek to form a childcare bubble. Or even a support bubble if your child is under 1 year old. We know that 90% of working mums have increased stress and anxiety in this lockdown. And if you are struggling there are support groups such as The Samaritans, Gingerbread for single parents, and Working Families to name just a few”.
If you are facing any of the difficulties or issues raised in this interview, you can contact the Pregnant Then Screwed team directly on their helpline.
If you found this newsletter helpful, please feel free to forward on to anyone else that might need it. You can also show your thanks by buying me a virtual coffee here.
Until next time…