The government has given the go-ahead for a £1 million programme of independent research into extent of pregnancy discrimination in the UK.

When the last research was carried out almost ten years ago, it 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, either 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 measures including 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 have still been 9,000 pregnancy discrimination claims brought against UK employers since 2007.

Announcing the new research programme, which will be carried out by Equality and Human Rights Commission, Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller said: “It’s unacceptable that women suffer from discrimination when they become pregnant. This new research will be crucial in helping us to understand the extent of the problem and the issues around it.”

Her announcement on 4 November came as the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) marked its first year of operation. It was set up by the government last year 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.

One in 20 cases handled by the new service involved people contacting the EASS about pregnancy discrimination.