Gender pay gap will remain if government fails to address structural issues, warn MPs

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The Women and Equalities Committee has warned that the government is not effectively tackling the structural causes of the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap will exist for another generation if the government fails to tackle the structural issues behind it, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.

The Women and Equalities Committee accused the government of not effectively tackling the structural causes of the gap and ignoring “the evidence put before it”.

The committee made a series of 17 recommendations on closing the gender pay gap to the government last March. In its response the government has rejected most of them.

The Committee’s recommendations include increasing paid paternity leave to three months, and making all jobs available to work flexibly unless the employer can make a business case against doing so.

However, while the government’s response acknowledged several structural reasons behind the gap – such as higher levels of part-time working among women – it maintained that current policies on shared parental leave, flexible working, and supporting older women back into work are adequate.

Committee chair Maria Miller described the response as “deeply disappointing”.

"The government says there is no place for a gender pay gap in modern Britain and has restated its pledge to end the pay gap within a generation,” she said. “But without effectively tackling the key issues of flexible working, sharing unpaid caring responsibilities, and supporting women over 40 back into the workforce the gender pay gap will not be eliminated.”

On rejecting extended flexible working, the government said it was too “soon to formally evaluate the extension of the right to request flexible working”. On increasing paternity leave and pay it cited cost barriers.

Working Families CEO Sarah Jackson said rejecting extended paternity leave on cost grounds was “a false economy”.

“Half of fathers are ready to downshift their career because they can’t achieve the balance they need,” she said. “This conundrum is even more acute for younger fathers – rather than ‘wait and see’ the government needs to urgently tackle gendered ideas about who works and who cares. Rejecting properly paid and extended paternity leave on cost grounds is a false economy.”

Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute, warned of the danger of a lack of action. “UK PLC can’t afford the cost of inaction on tackling the gender pay gap,” she said.

“The pay gap increases the higher up the ladder you go, with just 30% of director-level roles held by women and a pay gap of more than 30%. The government’s approach to gender pay reporting is a good step in the right direction as it encourages transparency and targets that will help organisations tackle this issue. But to achieve gender balance in managerial roles the CMI estimates we need another 1.5 million [women] in management by 2024.”

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