Gender pay gap: no change in two decades

Nikki Pound explains how women work for free for almost two months every year

Six years since the introduction of gender pay gap reporting, over 50 years since the Equal Pay Act and 135 years since Clementina Black introduced the first motion to TUC Congress on equal pay, women still face significant pay inequality. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, once you account for changes in educational attainment, the gender pay gap (the difference in average earnings for men and women) has barely budged in the last 25 years.  

Now with the cost-of-living crisis and its disproportionate impact on women, a strikes bill that will impact sectors such as health and education that are predominantly women-led workforces, and an EU Retained Law Bill that risks rolling back many rights that have supported women in the workplace, we risk consigning another generation of women to pay inequality and turning the clock back on women’s equality. This comes on top of over a decade of austerity which saw women bear the brunt of austerity measures.  

Tackling pay inequality is a political issue, a feminist issue and a trade union issue.  

Recent TUC analysis of the latest gender pay gap data showed that the average woman in paid employment effectively works for free for nearly two months of the year compared to the average man in paid employment. The gender pay gap for all employees currently stands at 14.9%. And we know that this compounds for women with intersecting characteristics. For example, the average disabled woman in paid employment faces a pay gap of 35% (equivalent to £7,000 per year) in comparison to a non-disabled man in paid employment.  

Our analysis also showed that the gender pay gap widens with age. Women aged between 50 and 59 have the highest pay gap (20.8%) and work the equivalent of 76 days for free. The widening and compounding of pay inequality throughout women’s lives also drives the gender pensions gap, which is two and a half times wider than the pay gap, at 40.5%.  

Across sectors, we see variations in the pay gap, with the widest pay gap in finance and insurance, where women on average earn 31.2% less than men. Even in sectors that tend to be dominated by female workers, like education and healthcare, the gender pay gap persists. The pay gap in education is 22.2%, so the average woman effectively works for free for more than a fifth of the year (81 days). And in health and social care, where the gender pay gap is 14%, the average woman works for free for 51 days.  

In education, 75% of the teaching workforce are women and 89% of support staff are women. Nearly 77% of the 1.3 million NHS workers are women, and 82% of the social care workforce are women, with 23% from a Black or minority ethnic background. As well as facing existing pay inequality and undervaluing of their work, if the Government’s draconian, unnecessary and almost certainly illegal Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill becomes law, women working in these sectors could face the sack for taking strike action to protect and improve their pay, conditions and the services they work so hard to deliver.  

Women are more likely to be in low-paid jobs, work part-time, have lower levels of savings compared to men and be less likely to take on additional hours of work due to caring responsibilities. TUC analysis shows that 1.46 million women are kept out of the labour market because of their caring responsibilities, with one in 10 women in their 30s dropping out of the jobs market because of the pressures of looking after their family. A lack of genuine flexible working and the extortionate cost of childcare all contribute to putting women in an impossible situation. A recent survey from Pregnant Then Screwed found that three quarters of mothers who pay for childcare say it does not make financial sense for them to work.  

If Government is serious about women’s equality, then it must address these issues. As well as gender pay gap reporting, we need a duty on employers to produce mandatory action plans to set out how they intend to close their pay gaps, as well as extending these measures to ethnicity and disability pay gaps.  

The Government must increase the minimum wage to £15 per hour, so that the lowest paid – most often women – earn at least a liveable wage. We need to help women balance their caring responsibilities and work without cuts to hours or leaving work altogether, and we must enable men to take on more caring responsibilities. To do this, the Government must introduce a right to genuine flexible working from the first day in the job for everyone and a duty on employers to include flexible working options in job adverts; it should reform shared parental leave, so it is a day one, individual right for both parents, paid at a decent rate; and it should introduce ten days’ paid carers’ leave per year for each child.  

Despite their recent Budget announcement, the Government’s plan for childcare does not go far enough. We need fully funded, high-quality childcare available to all, free at the point of use, and a workforce strategy that recognises and values childcare and early years workers to deliver it.  

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