The Women and Equalities Committee this week published its report on the gender pay gap – and we are calling on the Government to face facts and take further action.
Despite the Equal Pay Act coming into force 45 years ago, women still earn less than men in Britain today. The difference in pay between men and women is a clear indicator that further action must be taken to achieve gender parity.
Over the course of their careers, women in Britain can expect to earn significantly less than men. This is down to a number factors: caring responsibilities; concentration in low skilled and low paid work; a lack of support for those wishing to re-enter the labour market; and outright discrimination.
No young girl should grow up in 2016 with the prospect of facing a glass ceiling that limits her ambitions. We all owe it to future generations of working women to end gender inequality once and for all. Action on gender inequality cannot and should not wait.
This position is hardly radical: the Prime Minister pledged to end the Gender-Pay Gap in a generation. But in the past four years, there has been little sign that he will fulfil his promise. As the Women and Equalities Committee report shows, this cannot change unless there is a rethink at the top.
The 19.2% gap between men’s and women’s pay has barely moved under David Cameron’s leadership. The gap for full- and part-time workers means on average a woman earns about 80p for every £1 earned by a man. Unless the Government pushes employers into action, women will not fulfil their potential and, as our report shows, deny the economy of £36 billion.
As an illustration of how policy can have a positive impact on the gender pay gap, we do not have to look far. In Scotland, the action being taking with the limited powers we have appear to be working. The gender-pay gap is falling faster than the rest of the UK.
Over the last year, the gender gap for full time workers in the UK only fell by 0.8 percentage points, to 9.5 percent. In Scotland, the gap closed 1.8 points to 7.5 percent.
We did this by taking tough decisions. The Scottish Government extended the requirements for public authorities to publish information on their gender pay gap and equal pay statements.
Scottish public authorities with more than 20 employees are now required to disclose gender pay gap information and statements on equal pay.
Currently, public authorities that have more than 150 employees to publish this information, whereas proposed UK wide regulations will only apply to public and private sector authorities with more than 250 employees.
The proposal for a UK-wide gender-pay audit was in the SNP’s manifesto and would have been proposed for the years 2016/17, however the UK Government have stalled their plans and the legislation is now not due to come into force until 2018.
We need action now. Women have waited long enough for parity – we should not have to wait another two years for action. The UK Government must introduce the gender-pay audits this year. The regulations in Scotland go further than elsewhere and are a recognition that the gender pay gap has no place in a modern and equal society.
One of the fundamental issues when it comes to tackling the gender pay gap is the overhang of perceived notions that there are traditional roles that women must fulfil. In particular, when it comes to caring for children and elderly or sick relatives, that role will often fall to a woman. This can mean in many cases a career break or moving into part-time work. As a solution to this increased burden on women, the committee reported that supporting men and women to share childcare and other forms of unpaid caring more equally is one of the most effective policy levers in reducing the gender pay gap.
Although not exclusively a women’s issue, in Scotland, we are increasing childcare to improve outcomes for children, and support more women back into work. All three and four year olds, and the most disadvantaged two year olds are now entitled to 600 hours of early learning and childcare. A crucial element of providing quality childcare, is ensuring that it mets the needs of families, in Scotland parents are be able to take their available hours of childcare to better suit their working patterns.
They will, increasingly, be able to use hours as full day sessions as well as half days and have the right to spread these hours over the summer holidays as well as term time.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to double the available hours per week, from 16 to 30, will help parents get back to work while bringing up their children. That’s good for families as well as for our national prosperity and will assist in closing the gender pay gap between men and women.
The UK Government would do well to look at the Scottish Government’s action on inequality.
The fight to eliminate the gender-pay gap is not reserved to one half of the population. No man wants his wife, daughter, sister or mother to be earning less simply because they are a woman.
If the UK Government is serious about long-term, sustainable growth it must invest in tackling the root causes of the gender pay gap.
Adopting the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee would be a significant step towards achieving the goal of workplace equality for men and women.
So let’s take strong, decisive action and put this inequality where it belongs – in the history books.