The government will fail to achieve its goal of eliminating the gender pay gap in a generation if it continues to ignore the evidence put before it, says a cross-party committee of MPs.
The Women and Equalities Committee report and recommendations were published in March 2016 and received a Government response in January 2017. As it publishes the government’s response to its recommendations, the committee has raised concerns that the government is not effectively tackling the structural causes of the gender pay gap.
The committee’s recommendations included:
• Addressing the part-time pay penalty and flexible working:
“Flexible working for all lies at the heart of addressing the gender pay gap. This does not mean part-time working, which is underpaid and limits career progression. The Government is not taking the steps needed to ensure flexible working is offered to all employees, particularly those in lower paid sectors.”
• Supporting parents to share childcare equally:
“As long as women continue to take the majority of responsibility for childcare and other forms of unpaid caring, pay differentials will persist. The Government recognises the benefits of men and women sharing care equally, but its flagship policy, shared parental leave – is predicted to make little difference to behaviour.”
• Supporting women back into the workforce after time out of the labour market:
"The inquiry also found that women faced a number of barriers to returning to work and that there is more scope for schemes which support women returning to work across a range of occupations."
• Addressing low pay in highly feminised sectors such as catering, cleaning and caring:
“Other than the minimum wage, there has been no co-ordinated attempt to address the issues faced by women in low paid sectors.”
The government’s response recognises the business case for reducing the gender pay gap and notes that, while the rate of female participation in the labour market has increased, “unfair or distorting barriers to work” remain. It acknowledges structural factors contributing to the pay gap, including women doing jobs for which they are overqualified, concentration in part-time work, and being penalised for taking time out of work to raise children.
Despite this, the government rejects most of the committee’s seventeen evidence-based recommendations for addressing these issues. It highlights gender pay gap reporting, as “key to accelerating progress” and maintains that current policies on Shared Parental Leave, flexible working, and supporting women back into work are adequate.
Committee chair Maria Miller said:
“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. But without effectively tackling the key issues of flexible working, sharing unpaid caring responsibilities, and supporting women aged over 40 back into the workforce, the gender pay gap will not be eliminated.
“We made practical, evidence-based recommendations to address these issues. They were widely supported by a range of stakeholders including businesses, academics, and unions. It is deeply disappointing that our recommendations have not been taken on board by government.”
The committee will be questioning the secretary of state for women and equalities, Justine Greening, on the government’s response to its recommendations on Wednesday 26 April.
Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute, commented:
“UK plc can’t afford the cost of inaction on tackling the gender pay gap. The potential productivity boost is big indeed – bridging the gender pay gap could add an extra £150bn by 2025, according to McKinsey. Individual organisations also reap the rewards of improved performance and business culture that benefits all employees.
“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 over 30%. The government’s approach to gender pay reporting, which will take effect soon, is a good step in the right direction as it encourages transparency and targets which will help organisations to tackle this issue.
“To achieve gender balance in managerial roles, CMI estimates we need another 1.5m in management by 2024. We’re working with employers to promote practices that benefit men and women alike, such as flexible working and better career conversations. The government’s programme of higher quality, employer-led apprenticeships could also be leveraged to encourage older women to re-train and re-enter the workforce to help kick- start their career development after time out.”