Government plans to tackle unequal pay

The prime minister has outlined plans to force large businesses to say how much they pay their male and female employees. Will this bring about greater prosperity and independence for women?

‘If the terms of a contract under which a woman is employed at an establishment in Great Britain do not include……an equality clause, they shall be deemed to include one.’

With those words, the Equal Pay Act of 1970 declared that women would be paid the same amount of money as men for doing the same work. But in April 2014, women in full-time work were paid 9.6% less than men. When full time and part time work is combined, for every £1 men earned last year, women earned just 81p.

The government plans to expose companies which pay women less than men, aiming to ‘end the gender pay gap in a generation’. As consultation on the issue opened yesterday, David Cameron said that, from next year, companies with over 250 staff will be forced to reveal the average pay of their male and female employees. The Prime Minister said the move would ‘create the pressure we need for change, driving women’s wages up’.

The gap in pay between men and women in full-time work in the UK is now at its lowest level since the figure was first recorded in 1997. But sizeable discrepancies remain depending on age and occupation, and the differences are more pronounced in some regions than in others.

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, cites a range of reasons for the gap. They say women lose out on career opportunities because they spend more time on childcare responsibilities than men; pay is lower in jobs traditionally done by women; and in some instances outright discrimination still occurs.

Women increasingly undertook paid work in western societies during the 20th century, particularly during the two world wars, giving them greater economic independence. But men are still more widely employed and paid substantially more than women globally. One study in January found that gender inequality costs the world economy $9tn per year.

But shadow women and equalities minister Gloria De Piero says pay transparency is only a ‘first step’. The government’s consultation needs to outline a much more comprehensive solution, tackling perceptions of women alongside visible discrimination, to get to the root of the problem.

Equal pay a-gender

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which represents British businesses, says the changes should be voluntary, rather than forced. Women will not get greater economic opportunities as the result of potentially misleading attacks on the very people who can help to deliver them.

The CBI is at odds with the government, which sees naming and shaming companies as an uncomfortable but necessary step. Businesses must play their part in creating a gender-blind society, and they will benefit when women’s talents are fully appreciated.

You Decide

  1. Is the government’s idea an effective way to give women greater economic independence and prosperity?
  2. Should we know more about how much other people are paid?

Activities

  1. Write (and, if possible, perform) a one-minute discussion between someone who agrees with the government’s proposal, someone who disagrees with it and someone who thinks it isn’t enough.
  2. Prepare a briefing for Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan, outlining measures she could take to close the gender pay gap. Outline the advantages and disadvantages of each option, then recommend what you would do.

Some People Say...

“Equal pay for equal work isn’t enough.”

Oliver Miles, The Guardian (headline to an article)

What do you think?

Q & A

How does this affect us at school?
Employment and education opportunities are closely linked; the choices you make and lessons you learn at school have an important impact on what you earn in later life. So, for example, it is an important factor that fewer girls currently take STEM subjects at school than boys — these subjects are more likely than most others to lead to lucrative careers.
Didn’t last week’s budget have a lot to say on pay?
Yes, and the government is keen to stress that it announced a significant rise in the minimum wage last Wednesday. Women are more likely to benefit from that move than men. But the opposition says that the cuts to tax credits which the Chancellor also announced, and which will hit women harder than men, will mean that those low-paid women are worse off.

Word Watch

First recorded in 1997
The gap was 17.4% in 1997. It has tended to decline since; in 2013, it stood at 10%. (ONS)
Age and occupation
Women working over 30 hours per week were paid more per hour than men in their twenties and thirties last year. But women lost significant ground in middle age. This has fuelled concern that women are under-represented at senior levels of businesses (though the government said yesterday that 25% of people on FTSE 100 companies’ boards are now women) and that they make disproportionate career sacrifices to bring up children.
Jobs traditionally done by women
In many cases, these distinctions are gradually changing, but there remains what the Fawcett Society calls ‘occupational segregation’. Women make up 78% of those working in health and social care, for example, whereas 88% of those working in STEM industries in 2012 were men.
The two world wars
With men conscripted to fight, warring powers needed women to work in the factories. Their work is often seen as an important driver of change in the way women were perceived, as well as their legal rights.

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