Tackling the gender pay gap requires more than just lip service | Letters

Reporting should improve the standard of debate, argues Julian Jessop of the Institute of Economic Affairs, while Vanessa Olorenshaw laments a model of equality based on our capitalist system

One of the potential benefits of gender pay gap reporting is that it can inform and improve the standard of debate about equality in the workplace. This is something we would all support. Unfortunately, your interactive tool allowing readers to calculate “when does your company stop paying women in 2018?” is a big step backwards. It would only make sense to claim that women are “effectively working for free” if the gender pay gap data are evidence of unequal pay for comparable jobs of equal value. However, as your own coverage makes clear, this is not necessarily the case. Pay gaps reflect a myriad of other factors, including occupation, seniority and hours worked.

Your tool does not allow readers to calculate when men start working “for free” at the small but not insignificant number of companies where there is a gender pay gap in favour of women. That’s a shame, because understanding what’s happening at these companies would also help the debate. But perhaps this would not fit the narrative.
Julian Jessop
Chief economist, Institute of Economic Affairs

• As a former founding member of the Women’s Equality party (and whose contribution to policy called loudly but in vain for the recognition of the unwaged care work of women), I read the headline of Sandi Toksvig’s article (The gender pay gap isn’t the half of it: our economy runs on women’s unpaid work, 9 April) with optimism. It certainly suggested that the WEP’s lens on this is shifting.

However, the article fails to go beyond lip service while continuing to cheer a model of equality based on the very economic system that exploits us: one of equality in a world that takes public and paid work under patriarchal norms as the default. Widening wealth inequality is only going to get worse without fundamental change to how we measure that which is valuable.

It is not enough to state that our economy runs on women’s unwaged work without any hint of how to do better. We need a transformed economic model that recognises and remunerates caring work as central to human need. One that takes into account the attachment needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised under current thinking about childcare: babies and young children. We need creative ways to ensure that women are not penalised for having children and – if and when we choose – taking time out of the workforce to care for them. We need a transformed economic model that embraces those returning to the workforce as having something to offer. What is needed now is women’s liberation as opposed to mere equality.
Vanessa Olorenshaw
Author, Liberating Motherhood: Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, Sevenoaks, Kent

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