Low pay for women is both a symptom and a cause of gender inequality

With higher pay more men might be encouraged to consider working in social care or childcare and that would be a significant step forward


In the run up to the General Election, every few weeks Left Foot Forward will take a look back at the coalition’s record on a specific policy area. This week we focus on low pay, and each day we will feature a piece that looks back at the impact of coalition policies on in-work poverty over the past five years. The following is from Sally Brett, senior policy officer at the TUC

The majority of low paid workers are women. Three in five National Minimum Wage jobs are held by women, two in five by men. Over a quarter of women (27 per cent) earn less than the Living Wage; fewer than one in six men do (16 per cent).

For women working part time, which two-fifths of women do, the incidence of low pay is even higher – two in five earn less than the Living Wage and in some parts of the country most part-time women do not earn enough to give them a decent standard of living.

Certain characteristics that are commonly associated with women such as being a part-time worker (three-quarters are women) or being a lone parent (92 per cent are women) have been found to greatly increase the likelihood of being stuck on low pay for more than a decade.

Yet the most often talked about headline measures of gender equality – the full-time gender pay gap, the number of women on corporate boards, the number of women MPs and government ministers – say relatively little or nothing about this glaring inequality and so do little to focus attention on it.

Gender equality initiatives such as the government’s ‘Think, Act, Report’ campaign or its goal for more women on boards concentrate corporate and political resources on ensuring talented women are not held back and on building pipelines to enable them to reach the highest levels.

Of course, this activity is important but the millions of long-term low paid women must not be forgotten – and the role that gender has played in making them so.

Most low paid women are in jobs that are undervalued and underpaid because they are viewed as ‘women’s work’ or suited to women who are carers too and so have constrained employment options. Jobs that have been associated with traditionally male breadwinners are more likely to attract better pay.

The undervaluation of women’s work won’t be addressed by focusing solely on initiatives to encourage women into higher paid, male-dominated areas. Substantially more money needs to be put into raising pay for those in the undervalued ‘women’s work’.

The demand for care workers, childminders, catering assistants and cleaners is not diminishing. As the TUC showed earlier this week a significant part of the net jobs growth for women in 2014 was in these kinds of jobs.

A TUC report launched today shows that the social care sector has accounted for the biggest share of net jobs growth for women since the recession and a million more care workers will be needed in the next decade according to some predictions. These are jobs that are vital for our economy and society and yet we hear time and again how the majority female workforce is poorly paid and ill-treated.

To complement the targets for getting women better represented at the top, it would be refreshing to see government and companies committing to targets for reducing the representation of women amongst the low paid. Not least because it is difficult to envisage how this would be achieved without increasing the pay rates for the jobs that they do.

With higher pay more men might be encouraged to consider working in social care or childcare and that would be a significant step forward for gender equality. Government, local authorities and corporations might also consider more seriously the gender impact of decisions to outsource caring, cleaning and catering services to the lowest bidder, instead of taking advantage of the low market value that has been traditionally given to this work.

Sally Brett is senior policy officer at the TUC

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4 Responses to “Low pay for women is both a symptom and a cause of gender inequality”

  1. greg

    There is a lot to be written about how to narrow the gender pay gap but this is nonsense. It isn’t that they are ‘women’s work’, it’s that they are largely un or low skilled work for which there has generally been in recent years a surplus of labour. If they involved more skill, longer training, harder entry requirements wages would go up.

    The other thing of course is to imagine that did happen (it won’t of course) if it was enacted. The current people wouldn’t just get more money. if in those sectors pay did rise and it became more competitive as a result it would then be harder to get a job in those industries, What would the people (likely women as they currently dominate) in the industries now who can’t get the qualifications or compete or whatever and are pushed out of those industries?

    The key is to get women working in better industries, longer equal paternity leave to balance out the problem of just taking a year or more off work (which all the evidence shows has a huge impact), and crucially get to a situation where mothers are working part time less or men work part time just as much as women. Part time jobs will always lead to lower salaries and so on because by definition they are only part of what someone full time would do.

    It’s also worth noting we should distinguish between actual gender pay gaps, the post maternity pay gap and the selection of lower paying industries and part time work that depending how you look at the figures the latter two tend to make up the majority of the pay difference when the figures are usually quoted.

    I also have to point out the pointlessness of the comment ‘most part-time women do not earn enough to give them a decent standard of living.’ – they are working part time and therefore getting paid part time. This is hardly surprising!!! I fully expect the same is true for men working part time.

  2. damon

    There was another argument about this made the other day.

    ”The gender pay gap is a myth – so why do so many buy it?
    There’s an ironic paternalism to the anti-pay gap campaign.”


  3. Guest

    Yea, no surprise you but into that myth, as you pontificate here.

  4. Harvey Smith

    I am not agreed with author of this article! My girlfriend is a director of small advertising company and I know many others women who have own companies and are very tight but fair directors. No, we don’t have gender inequality in our country! Yes, sometimes men and women have difficult time in life! I had tight budget one month ago. My decision was to get a loan. It was good service! So keep in mind that you can meet expenses with fast payday loan online.

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