Women in mid-30s may never know equal pay in their working lives

More than 40% of working women worried about impact of Covid on job prospects

Women in their mid-30s will never know equal pay in their working lives if progress towards tackling the gender gap is not accelerated, according to new analysis.

To mark Equal Pay Day, the day that women in effect stop being paid because of the gender pay gap in the UK, Labour has said 8.5 million women will go their entire careers without receiving equal pay.

It comes as research from the Fawcett Society reveals that 43% of working women, and 50% of black and minority ethnic working women – compared with 35% of white working men – are worried about their job and promotion prospects because of coronavirus, while one-third of working women have lost work or hours because of pandemic-related childcare issues.

Concerns about impact of Covid on work

The Savanta ComRes survey of 8,425 UK adults found that school and childcare closures during the pandemic had hit black and minority ethnic working mothers hard: 44% said they lost work or hours due to a lack of childcare, compared with 34% of working white mothers.

Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the UK was at a “coronavirus crossroads” on the path towards gender equality.

“The second world war gave birth to the welfare state; the winter of discontent led to a new Thatcherite era,” she said. “The coronavirus crisis puts us at a crossroads again, and it is clear that this applies to the gender pay gap.”

She said gains made in the 50 years since the Equal Pay Act had been eroded, with women facing an uncertain economic future and the childcare sector in crisis. The latest government figures show that more women than men are on furlough across almost every age group, while 36% of young women work in sectors that have been closed down. She accused the government of ignoring the needs of families while investing £16bn in defence. “More guns and bullets won’t help working parents,” she said. “We urgently need a properly funded childcare infrastructure to enable parents to work and grow our economy out of the pandemic.”

According to the Office for National Statistics, the mean gender pay gap for all employees is 14.6% this year, down from 16.3% last year. Fawcett calculates Equal Pay Day by using the full-time mean average gender pay gap – which this year is 11.5%, down from 13.1% in 2019. But it said the reduction should be treated with caution, as a quarter of the usual sample of employer pay data was missing from the ONS calculations due to Covid. The government announced in March that it had suspended the requirement for employers to report their gender pay gaps for 2019-20 because of the pandemic.

Gender pay gap graphic

Marsha De Cordova, the shadow secretary for women and equalities, said: “The government has failed to tackle the gender pay gap and has ignored the impact this crisis has had on women. We need urgent action to modernise equal pay legislation and restart pay gap reporting.”

The Equality Trust said the government could only make equal pay a reality by giving women the right to know what a male colleague doing the same work was paid. In a report marking Equal Pay Day it said there had been “paltry progress on reducing the gender pay gap” over the three years of company reporting, and an increase of 179% on the average gender bonus gap of reporting companies.

“Women are still being undervalued, underpaid and to add insult to injury, there is little if any progress on the gender pay and bonus gaps,” said Dr Wanda Wyporska, the executive director of the trust.

She pointed to companies that reported high gender pay gaps this year, including easyJet (54.7%), HSBC Bank (55.1% and bonus gap: 68.5%), Yours Clothing (59% and bonus gap: 88%) and Rush Hair (69.2%) as examples of the work that still needed to be done.

A spokesman from the Government Equalities Office said the government was “fully committed” to providing equal opportunity in the workplace: “As we look to unite the country and recover from the pandemic it is key that companies embrace flexible working initiatives which have a positive impact on recruitment and the productivity of staff.”


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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