Autumn Statement: The most common government boast on the gender pay gap
Minutes into opening his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor repeated one of the most common government boasts about the gender pay gap – that it is the lowest ever on record.
Almost all Chancellors in the past 40 years could have said this. It’s hardly something to brag about, especially when last year under his watch, the gender pay gap widened.
The Government’s preferred measure of the gender pay gap measures the difference between men’s and women’s full-time median earnings. The long-term trend, since the introduction of equal pay and sex discrimination legislation 40 years ago, has been for this gap to narrow. So almost every year, it could be said that it is the lowest ever on record. This is what we would expect with the increasing participation of women in the labour market and in higher education.
However, on the government’s preferred median measure, the gender pay gap increased by 0.5 percentage points last year: from 9.5% in 2012 to 10% in 2013. In 2014, it fell back to 9.4%. As Frances O’Grady said when the new earnings data came out in November we’re actually just back to where we were two years ago. Hardly sounds as grand as ‘the lowest ever on record’ does it?
And since 2010, under this Government, the gender pay gap has fallen overall but by just 0.6 percentage points.
What is also always missing from these boasts about closing the gender pay gap is that it excludes what is happening to pay for part-time women, which is not a lot! About two in five women work part-time – 6 in 10 working mothers with pre-school or primary school age children. Finding decent pay and progression opportunities on reduced or flexible hours is hard. Two in five part time women earn less than the living wage. Median hourly earnings for part-time women are 37.9% lower than median hourly earnings for full-time men.
There is still so much to be done to improve the employment and pay opportunities for women, particularly once they become mothers. Earlier this week, the TUC published a new report ‘The Pregnancy Test: Ending discrimination at work for new mothers’, which highlighted the discrimination and penalties that motherhood can bring and the barriers that this Government has put in the way of those seeking equal treatment.