Progress on closing the pay gap has stalled, according to Women and Equalities Committee
The gender pay gap has stayed unchanged for four years, according to the Women and Equalities committee, which released its report on the pay gap this morning.
Although the pay gap has been significantly reduced since it was first measured in 1997, it has now plateaued at just under 20 per cent. Yet according to the committee, chaired by Conservative MP Maria Miller, ‘the Government does not have a coherent strategy to address the issues underlying this gap’.
Having taken evidence from a wide range of stakeholders, the report focused on the diverse impacts of pay inequality on different groups of women, concluding that these five groups were most vulnerable.
Women over 40
While the overall pay gap stands at 19.2 per cent, the gap widens as women grow older and stands at 27.3 per cent for women between 50 and 59.
The committee’s investigation particularly focused on this generational inequality, both on behalf of women currently in this age group, and with a view to ensuring that women now in their twenties and thirties don’t see their relative pay decline as the grow older.
It recommends the establishment of a National Pathways to Work scheme, which would support women who have taken time out of the labour market to return to employment.
Women in traditionally feminised industries
Previous investigations of the pay gap have been criticised for failing to represent the situation of women in low-paid industries such as care, cleaning and retail.
These sectors are still characterised by part-time work, scarce wages, poor working conditions and a lack of social prestige. They are also increasingly affected by zero-hour contracts.
The report recommends the establishment of industrial strategies in these sectors to improve pay levels and productivity.
A debate on enforcing the minimum wage in the care sector will take place in Westminster Hall tomorrow.
Mothers and unpaid carers
Although less than a third of people in the UK agree that women should be primarily responsible for childcare, EHRC research has found that three-quarters of mothers consider themselves to be the primary carer.
Additionally, women are far more likely to take on caring responsibilities for other family members, and to take on a disproportionate share of household duties. These factors force many women into part-time work or out of the labour force altogether.
Therefore, the report calls for the majority of jobs to be flexible by default, allowing women to accommodate their other responsibilities. It also recommends introducing non-transferrable leave for fathers and second parents to ensure more equal distribution of care.
An EHRC report also published today finds that 77 per cent of working mothers have experienced negative behaviour or discrimination in relation to pregnancy and maternity. But fewer than one per cent reported their experience to an employment tribunal, suggesting that such tribunals need to become more accessible.
In particular, several organisations have called for tribunal fees, which were introduced in 2013, to be either scrapped or significantly reduced.
Women from Black and Minority Ethnic communities
This group is scarcely addressed in the committee’s report, but existing research shows that BME women are more seriously affected by the pay gap, are likely to be paid less than their white counterparts, and are more likely to struggle to find employment in the first place.
While the report recommends greater tailoring of government policy to older women, mothers and economically vulnerable workers, policy must also acknowledge the specialised needs of BME women and women from other marginalised groups.
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward
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