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09.11.15

The public sector may be transparent, but women are still working for free

Today is Equal Pay Day.

Despite the seemingly positive name, this not-so-celebratory date actually symbolises that, until the end of the year, women will be effectively working for free – thanks to the persevering gender pay gap.

The gap stands at around 14.2% in the UK, with full-time working men earning £2.38 more per hour than women, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics. The gap generally rises with age, standing at 5.8% for 18 to 21 year olds, but 20.5% for 50 to 59 year olds.

But despite these bleak figures, there are, arguably, some things to celebrate in the public sector today: the date has fallen five days later than Equal Pay Day in 2014, meaning the pay gap has narrowed ever so slightly.

Yet more importantly, today’s date comes shortly after the government announced more practical measures to squeeze the pay gap between men and women. Although Whitehall’s own current makeup is anything but equal (only about 39% of senior civil servants are women, even though women make up 54% of the Civil Service as a whole), its recent decision to force large employers to publish their bonuses by gender could potentially shine a light on how deep-rooted this issue really is.

Fawcett Society, a charity promoting gender equality and women’s rights, also argued that last month’s extension of this regulatory measure to include public sector employers is most welcome. As it said, a large part of stamping out the problem is confronting it in the first place: we must, therefore, be able to talk about pay openly.

And the effects of the extended measure are – slowly, but surely – already being felt throughout the sector, with Camden Council recently becoming one of the first organisations in the world to independently analyse the pay gap in its workforce by gender, disability and ethnicity. Indeed, at a higher job level, its figures revealed a pay difference of 12% between men and women.

But while it is a step – one that should have been taken decades ago, alongside the 1970 Equal Pay Act – publishing salaries alone is not enough to mend the gap. Regulations have to be met with firm action plans to tackle gender inequalities in the sector with tougher penalties for employers who fail to comply.

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