Despite today's big pay gap announcement these are difficult times for women
It is great news that the government has taken a positive step to close the gender pay gap. New legislation will force large firms to disclose the salaries of their staff, leading to a climate of greater transparency and pressuring companies to pay staff the same wage for doing the same job.
Firms with more than 250 employees will be affected, meaning over 10 million workers will be covered by the new rules.
It should be noted that this was not David Cameron’s idea – forcing companies to publish details of pay gaps was actually a Lib Dem manifesto commitment.
In March it was Nick Clegg who secured an amendment to the Small Business Bill which led to the idea being approved. (The Lib Dems were also the first to commit to enforced transparency; the previous Labour government had only proposed voluntary publication. It is the current tragedy of the Lib Dem party that their bad work over the last parliament will overshadow the good).
While the prime minister is right to strive to ‘create the pressure we need for change’, it should also be noted that earlier this month he voted against shadow equalities minister Gloria De Piero’s proposal for annual equal pay checks to be conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
But the biggest reason for my reservations about the Tories’ commitment to gender equality is that less than a week ago they unveiled a set of cuts which will have a disproportionate effect on women.
According to Professor Diane Elson of the Women’s Budget Group, the changes to welfare benefits and personal income tax announced last week will ‘redistribute money from the purse to the wallet’. She finds that the majority of people losing out due to the £5.8bn cuts to tax credits by 2020 will be women, while the majority who gain from rising tax thresholds will be men.
Women are more likely to be lone parents – the 2011 census showed that women accounted for 92 per cent of lone parents with dependent children and men accounted for just eight per cent. A survey conducted by Working Mums found that 24 per cent of mothers had to give up work as a result of the changes.
Looking back over the last parliament, the benefits cap was slammed by domestic violence charities for its callous indifferences to exceptional (or not-so-exceptional) circumstances which might mean that a single woman with four children and rent to pay cannot survive on £500 a week.
Women are also more likely to work part-time, and to have caring responsibilities, all areas which have taken a hit in George Osborne’s latest Budget. Perversely, the introduction of a new ‘national living wage’ could actually leave many women worse off, as the small increase will mean they are ineligible for child tax credits.
Calling on companies to address the UK’s ridiculous pay gap is long overdue, and it is right that we are welcoming it. But we shouldn’t forget that, by re-announcing a Lib Dem policy just days after a hostile Budget, the Conservatives are giving to women with one hand and taking away with the other.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.