False hope for equal pay in latest ONS report

Despite some surprise figures, women are still earning significantly less overall than men.

Despite some surprise figures, women are still earning significantly less overall than men

The Office for National Statistics released their annual report into British salaries this week. The figures showing how the gender pay gap has changed garnered the most attention, with some surprising data appearing to suggest that things are improving. However, reflected in the apparent good news are some less positive trends:

The good news: Overall, the gender pay gap is narrowing, and has fallen from 10 per cent in 2013 to 9.4 percent in 2014. The report states that this is the lowest since records began in 1997, when women were earning 17.4 per cent less than men.

The bad news: Unfortunately, the closing of the gap seems to be more connected to falling male salaries than rising female ones. This year pay, after being adjusted for inflation, has decreased by 1.6 per cent, the biggest drop in three years.

According to a 2012 report by the CIPD, men were hit harder by the recession overall than women and experienced higher rates of unemployment, although this is attributed partly to a rise in the number of women entering the labour market.

Male managers, directors and executives were particularly badly affected by the crisis, which is reflected in the report by findings that the gap has decreased between men and women in senior positions.

The good news: Northern Ireland is bucking national trends, with women in full-time posts earning an average of £11.48 per hour and men earning £11.12.

The bad news: Women are only earning more when part-time workers are excluded from the survey. Overall there is still a pay gap of 10 per cent in Northern Ireland. The surprising figures have also been attributed to the fact that Northern Ireland has more public sector jobs than the rest of the UK.

The ONS report shows that since 2009, ‘private sector earnings have remained consistently at around 85 per cent of public sector earnings.’ This is partly because the private sector covers some of the lowest paid workers, including bar staff, cleaners and labourers.

This year, meridian gross weekly earnings for full-time employees in the public sector increased by one per cent, compared with 0.7 per cent for private sector employees.

The good news: Young women earn more than young men, with the report showing that women aged 22- 29 earn on average 1.1 per cent more than men in the same age group. This is up from 0.3 per cent last year.

The bad news: The very fact of this early ‘negative pay gap’ shows that there is still a long way to go before more equal parenting closes the pay gap for people of all ages. In 2013 the ONS showed that the average age for a woman to have her first child had hit 30; thus there is a clear correlation between the moment when women start families and the moment when their wages start to decrease.

The lack of well-paid leave for fathers means that it is still mainly women who spend a large period of time out of the labour market after having children, halting career development and ensuring that the gap remains once they return to work.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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