A report published this week by the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has warned that the government will not eliminate “structural causes” of wage inequality if it does not address issues such as flexible working and supporting older women back into work, a cross-party committee of MPs has warned. MPs raised concerns over the government’s latest rejection of the committee’s recommendations.
Rejected measures included three months’ paid paternity leave and devising industrial strategies for low-paid jobs carried out by women in the care, cleaning and retail industries. Without further re-consideration for the government, it is likely that the pay penalty which women face will continue to keep their income lower than that of their male counterparts.
Committee chair Maria Miller said:
“The government says there is no place for a gender pay gap in modern Britain and has restated its pledge to end the pay gap within a generation. But without effectively tackling the key issues of flexible working, sharing unpaid caring responsibilities and supporting women aged over 40 back into the workforce, the gender pay gap will not be eliminated.”
The government acknowledged back in January that there were persistent “structural factors” contributing to the gender pay gap, but has failed to adopt the committees recommendations which were first published in March 2016.
Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, said:
“The gender pay gap remains a stark reality. The government needs to take bolder action if we’re going to change things for the next generation of mothers and fathers.
“The right to request flexible working isn’t a panacea, and hasn’t delivered change for those on modest incomes. At the same time, many parents tell us that working flexibly just means putting in long working hours flexibly. Half of fathers are ready to downshift their career because they can’t achieve the balance they need. This conundrum is even more acute for younger fathers – rather than ‘wait and see’, the government needs to tackle gendered ideas about who works and who cares.”
Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC, commented:
“It’s positive news that women in the UK have benefitted from the improving economy and there are now more women in work than ever before, but we still have a way to go. By fully closing the gender pay gap we could boost women’s earnings by £85bn, which is an average of £6,100 per woman per year. It’s not just about getting more women working, but also about getting more of them into high-quality jobs that offer career progression and flexibility.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The government needs to up its game and tackle the root causes of the gender pay gap – not ignore them. This means removing the barriers that stop women getting better-paid jobs. And helping parents to share out caring responsibilities more equally. Ministers need to stop dragging their heels and challenge workplace discrimination full on.”
“The real issue we need to tackle is how careers progress: we need to look more closely at the opportunities people are given and how they are distributed. It’s undeniable that parenthood has a differential impact. We can’t deny that, in most instances, it has a positive effect for a man and a negative effect for a woman. It’s a critical juncture that we can see clearly through the pay disparity that occurs between men and women once they hit their thirties.
Obviously when you look at the gender pay gap, a large portion of the difference is to do with part time work. Part-time workers are usually paid less than full time workers, as are people who pursue flexible working arrangements – and this is a large part of what causes disparity, as women – especially mothers – are often the ones who organise their careers in this way. We know that there is absolutely no difference in the capabilities of men and women, so we must use this as a basis to ask what has stopped companies from achieving a 50/50 workforce of men and women at all levels. We must look at current methods of encouraging gender equality and ask what is really stopping us from making better progress.”