Rising Discrimination in the UK Against Pregnant Women and Mothers

Notwithstanding its rather clunky title, “Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage“, the paper included some shocking findings. Interviews with more than 3,200 women about their experiences of being pregnant at work, or returning to their jobs after giving birth, found that 11% reported having been dismissed, forced to take redundancy or treated so badly that they felt they had no choice but to resign.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which co-commissioned the research, assuming that these trends are replicated across the entire workforce means that as many as 54,000 new mothers in the UK may be forced out of their jobs each year.

But what few seemed to notice was that the new figures showed we are moving in the exact opposite direction of progress. Ten years ago, the Equal Opportunities Commission produced a similar report on maternity rights in the workplace, with the much more snappy title of “Greater Expectations”. That report estimated that the number of pregnant women and new mums forced out of their jobs was around 30,000 each year. Ten years on, the number is close to twice that.

It’s really interesting to look at what brought this about– some entirely gender-neutral changes (though with gendered effects that were predicted).

In the last Parliament, the Tories decimated civil legal aid, making it harder for working women to get advice on even their most basic rights. Next came the introduction of tribunal fees, which required women to pay up to £1,200 just to have their case heard, followed by several hundred more for an appeal if necessary. What this has meant in practice is that women who are members of a trade union are generally protected, while the 80% who are not union members are basically left to fend for themselves.

As predicted, sex discrimination claims took the biggest hit from these changes, with figures released earlier this year confirming an astonishing 91% reduction.

(I have no idea, by the way, why anyone would predict that sex discrimination claims would take the biggest hit. I’d expect e.g. racial discrimination claims to be equally hit.  Though I suppose if they’re just talking numbers, there are more women than members of other groups likely to be victims of discrimination.)

For more, go here.