Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Government Is Showing No Interest In Closing The Gender Pay Gap

The Government Is Showing No Interest In Closing The Gender Pay Gap

The Debrief: We can take to the streets in our thousands because of Donald Trump, why aren't we marching about this?

It’s nearly 50 years since the Equal Pay Act became law to make sure women and men were paid the same. So why, you might very reasonably be wondering, does the gender pay gap still exist?

It’s a very good question and one we really shouldn’t have to ask anymore. I’m not sure if you’d noticed but the world has got rather a lot on its plate at the moment, wouldn’t it be great if we could just nail equality once and for all and move on. Wouldn’t it save a lot of headspace, time and energy? Wouldn’t it make sense to sort it once and for all so we can start putting our weight behind things like, you know, world peace? Ok, maybe I’m starting to sound a bit Miss World, but with my tongue firmly in my cheek, you get the gist.

This week Maria Miller MP, head of the Women and Equalities Committee, has openly criticised the Government (yes, the one that’s headed up by a woman) for ignoring the committee’s evidence on inequality and snubbing its recommendations on how to tackle the gap once and for all.

The committee has explicitly said that ‘the government will fail to achieve its goal of eliminating the gender pay gap in a generation if it continues to ignore the evidence put before it’.

As things stand the overall gender pay gap for full time workers is 13.9 per cent. According to the Office for National Statistics annual survey of hours and earnings, it is closing by just 0.2 per cent a year. At that rate it will take another 47 years before there is true pay equality between men and women. The situation is even bleaker for apprentices, who face an hourly gender pay gap of £1.03 according to the Young Women’s Trust.

Yawn. Sigh. Whatever. I’m sorry, but if we can send robots to mars and create artificial intelligence, if we’ve got billions of pounds to invest in creating virtual reality games then surely we can sort this out? What do we need more: oculus rift, life on Mars or an end to the gender pay gap?

Our generation will be retired before the pay gap is closed if things continue like this. It feels like not a week goes by without an article about the gender pay gap, a new report, study or recommendation on how to solve it but, yet, nothing changes.

Among the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee which have being ignored are:

-    Addressing the part-time pay penalty and flexible working
-    Supporting parents to share childcare equally
-    Addressing low pay in highly feminised sectors such as catering, cleaning and caring.

Evidently frustrated, Maria Miller said:

‘The Government says there is no place for a gender pay gap in modern Britain and has restated its pledge to end the pay gap within a generation. But without effectively tackling the key issues of flexible working, sharing unpaid caring responsibilities, and supporting women aged over 40 back into the workforce, the gender pay gap will not be eliminated.’

‘We made practical, evidence-based recommendations to address these issues. They were widely supported by a range of stakeholders including businesses, academics, and unions. It is deeply disappointing that our recommendations have not been taken on board by Government.’

‘My Committee will continue to pursue urgent action to reduce the gender pay gap – starting by questioning the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities on this inadequate response to our recommendations.’

So where does this leave us? Well, we can quietly accept the Government’s softly, softly approach on this. We can be cool about it when they tell us not to worry because the pay gap is reducing my 0.001 per cent every year. Or, we can call this out for what it is – not good enough.

Women are, still, paid considerably less on average than men. Childcare is too expensive. Our shared parental leave policies aren’t good enough. And, this is not just a ‘women’s problem’. No woman, be she a tech company CEO, cleaner, carer, retail worker, or plumbing apprentice should be paid less, simply by virtue of being a woman. Flexible working should not be penalised; it should be celebrated. And childcare should be genuinely affordable for all. It’s not rocket science. Enough is enough.The Government should be all over this, but they aren't. We can take to the streets in our thousands because of Donald Trump, why aren't we marching about this?

A spokesperson for the Government told The Debrief:

‘We are committed to tackling the gender pay gap and our policies, which aim to balance the needs of employees and businesses while addressing this gap, are working.’
‘We now have the lowest gender pay gap on record, around 60,000 more people a year are taking advantage of flexible working arrangements and the introduction of Shared Parental Leave gives parents extra flexibility and we will continue to evaluate this as it beds in. We’re also supporting women over 40 in the workplace through the National Careers Service.’
‘But we know there’s more to do. That’s why we are requiring employers to publish their gender pay and gender bonus gap for the first time from April and we are giving working parents of three and four year olds up to 30 hours of free childcare from September.’

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Why You Need To Care About The Gender Pay Gap

The One Thing That Might Actually Close The Gender Pay Gap

Gender Pay Gap To Stick Around Until 2069, Says Report

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Tags: Politics, Feminism