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Two Steps Back: UK Wage Gap Increases

August 8, 2009
"Mind the gap" sign at a Toronto sub...
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After a decade of progress toward equality, the gender gap in wages among UK workers widened in 2007 from 21.9% to 22.6%. While that may not seem like the most dramatic of shifts and may, in the long run turn out to be a blip in the trend rather than a turning point, it does highlight that the goal of equal pay has yet to be achieved.

The Women and Work Commission released, along with these numbers, forty three recommended solutions focusing on two areas:

  1. ending gender stereotyping among children under fourteen, since such stereotypes can lead to girls aspiring to lower-payed fields (As MJ Colebrook of Hull University explained to me, students at fourteen begin to make decisions that may limit their possibilities for future studies. “For instance, it is difficult to take 2 languages and Geography and History together. You’re also forced to choose between dual award (combination) and 3 separate sciences.”)
  2. helping women balance work and family life

The first of these is complemented by provisions which seek to raise wages fields traditionally dominated by women, such as childcare. The second, which may be more important as the pay gap is greater for part-time workers, unfortunately fails to address the lack of equality in unpaid work carried out in the home.

The BBC reports that Kat Banyard, campaigns officer of the Fawcett Society, has criticized the commission’s key areas of focus:

‘The largest single cause of the pay gap is discrimination, the solution is not less segregation of roles, but paying women what they are worth,”‘she added.

‘Women are also being paid less by employers than their male counterparts, yet employers are under no obligation to check that women are not paid less.’

The government has ‘a once-in-a-generation opportunity’ with the Equality Bill to tackle the problem by carrying out audits to check when and where there is a pay gap, Ms Banyard added.

What do you think is the best way to address the wage gap? Let us know in the comments.

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