Why women in the UK are earning less than men is not a straightforward issue to unpick. However, there’s widespread agreement that discriminatory practices and unequal pay are contributing to the problem…
It has been illegal in the UK to pay a person less based on their sex for the same type of work, or for work of similar value since 1970. However even as we celebrate fifty years of The Equal Pay Act, the gender pay gap – the difference in average earnings between men and women – has barely moved since 2015. The Fawcett Society estimates that if progress continues at its current rate it will take at least sixty years to close the gap.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported the gender pay gap across all employees in 2019 as 17.3%. Based on the figures provided by the ONS, here in the North East, a man working full time can expect to earn approximately £97.40 more each week than a woman working full time. And, according to a report published by The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) “across the UK economy, women are on average paid nearly 20% less per hour than men”.
Why women in the UK are earning less than men is not a straightforward issue to unpick. However, there’s widespread agreement that discriminatory practices and unequal pay are contributing to the problem.
Most of us will remember the story of Samira Ahmed who took her complaint for equal pay to court and won her case against the BBC earlier this year, but away from these headline grabbing stories, according to statistical analysis by law firm DLA Piper “an average of 29,000 equal pay complaints are received by employment tribunals in England and Wales each year”. This, they warn, is the tip of the iceberg, and that without transparent pay frameworks, women rarely have access to the information they need to challenge employers.
Just as fundamental as equal pay in closing the gender pay gap is the provision of affordable childcare. A report carried out by the IFS in 2016 shows that the gender wage gap continues to rise in the twelve years after families have their first child.
It’s a pattern that mirrors the increase in caring responsibilities which are still disproportionally shouldered by women. Driven by the need to work more flexibly, and often closer to home, women represent the bulk of the workforce in part-time employment, which is more likely to be lower paid with fewer benefits or opportunities for progression. Across Teesside, according to the most recent census, just 6.6% of men worked part-time compared to 24.2% of women and that 43.4% of men were employed full time compared with only 25.5% of women.
Not only has a lack of affordable childcare been blamed for pushing families, particularly single parents – who are mostly women – into poverty, it has been identified by economists at PwC as a common driver of the gender pay gap across all 37 OECD countries. PwC says, “the results [of research] show larger government spending on family benefits significantly pushes down the gender pay gap”.
Moral arguments aside, there are good financial reasons to address the pay gap. According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) closing the gender pay gap would see the UK benefit from a £150 billion boost to its GDP. But, until we take the availability of high-quality affordable childcare seriously and commit to ensuring that women aren’t penalised for having children, the region will continue to miss out on its share of the multi-billion pound windfall that closing the gender pay gap would bring.
Article by Anne Fuller
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