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Equal Pay Day, organised by The Fawcett Society to highlight the UK's gender pay gap, takes place today



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Women are now effectively working for free until the end of the year because of the UK's widening gender pay gap - say those behind the country's Equal Pay Day campaign.

Today is the day in the year when, according to the data on average pay, women effectively stop earning relative to men because of issues surrounding gender inequality.

The UK's gender pay gap is widening say campaigners. Image: Stock photo
The UK's gender pay gap is widening say campaigners. Image: Stock photo

What is Equal Pay Day?

Equal Pay Day is a national event led in the UK by the Fawcett Society, a charity which campaigns for gender equality and women's rights.

While pay discrimination - paying a woman less than a man for work of equal value - is part of the message on Equal Pay Day, organisers say there are many other factors which contribute to the gender pay gap that measures the inequality between men and women.

The gender pay gap is not just one of unequal pay say campaigners. Picture: iStock
The gender pay gap is not just one of unequal pay say campaigners. Picture: iStock

What are they?

When a woman is paid less than her male counterpart for 'equal work' this is described as pay discrimination. An offence that has been illegal in the UK since the 1970s under laws brought in to ensure equal pay for equal work.

But pay discrimination, say those who campaign on Equal Pay Day, is only one reason why a gender pay gap can be created.

Unequal shares of caring work in the home often result in women doing more part-time work or taking on part time work for longer because they are mothers or carers. This, says the society, can also often be lower paid with fewer opportunities to progress or be promoted.

While men who work part time, says the Fawcett Society, tend to be students or migrant workers who alter their working day for entirely different reasons.

A failure to promote women within organisations and the lack of females entering some well paid fields such as those connected to science and engineering also contribute to a difference, say campaigners.

While there is also an issue with 'under-valuing' some of the types of work more women do - meaning that sectors that women are more likely to work in can be less well paid than areas of employment where there are more men.

Fewer women enter fields such as science and engineering. Picture: Getty stock image
Fewer women enter fields such as science and engineering. Picture: Getty stock image

How is Equal Pay Day calculated?

The gender pay gap is the difference between the average pay of men and women within a particular group or population.

Equal Pay Day this year falls on today, Thursday, November 18 and is calculated by The Fawcett Society using government gender pay gap figures collated by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

This year's data suggests an increase - with the figure now standing at 11.9%, up from 10.6% last year, with young women among those facing increasing disparity.

But Felicia Willow, Interim CEO of the Fawcett Society, said while this year's data has now been collected to help campaigners settle on the date for Equal Pay Day, the overall picture is far from clear.

She explained: "The Covid pandemic has made collecting the gender pay gap data difficult and is likely to have had an impact on inequality in the labour market itself. We will need to wait until furlough, data collection and other issues have ended before we can be certain of what has happened.

"Our recent research has shown the severe impacts of the pandemic on younger women particularly, both on the sectors they work in and on their mental health. Today’s data suggest the pay gap for them may be rising, and that action is needed to stop this turning into a long-term increase in the gender pay gap."

From today, campaigners say women will now work until the end of the year essentially for free because of gender pay gap issues
From today, campaigners say women will now work until the end of the year essentially for free because of gender pay gap issues

Has coronavirus made the gender pay gap worse?

Those studying the gender pay gap say it is too soon to tell how much of an impact coronavirus pandemic has had on the earnings or employment of men and women.

The data collected to help collate the UK's gender pay gap is gathered in April in an Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

But there has been a significant fall in the number of employers who have provided data as a result of the pandemic - dropping from 180,000 responses two years ago to 140,000 this year. Such a reduction may mean researchers are not seeing the full picture while The Fawcett Society says it is likely that those employers hit hardest have not submitted their information.

Many businesses did not submit their data this year so information about the gender pay gap is perhaps not complete. Picture: iStock
Many businesses did not submit their data this year so information about the gender pay gap is perhaps not complete. Picture: iStock

It is also unclear how much of an impact the furlough scheme has had on people's responses to the questionnaires - for example in April when information was gathered more men were furloughed than women but by August this had changed and women surpassed men among those still on the support scheme.

And hourly pay may only be part of the picture. The gender pay gap will not have captured, says Fawcett, the number of women forced to reduce their working hours because of lockdown and home schooling, or those who lost their jobs or left paid work because they took on greater responsibility for caring for family members or child care.

Women's wages may have been affected in the pandemic if they were the ones to meet the demands and responsibility of home schooling during lockdown. Picture: Stock image
Women's wages may have been affected in the pandemic if they were the ones to meet the demands and responsibility of home schooling during lockdown. Picture: Stock image

Felicia Willow says while they await the finer details, there is no doubt that the pandemic will have had a disproportionate impact on women, and work needs to be done to reduce the increasing gap.

She said: "Whilst gender pay gap reporting has been effective in getting big employers to act, it needs to go much further – we want to see government requiring mandatory action plans from employers to tackle gender pay gap in the workforce, as well as sharing data.

"The pandemic has had a tough and disproportionate impact on women, in particular women of colour, disabled women and mothers.

"And now in addition to this, a widening gender pay gap paints a worrying picture. The government needs to take bold action, from improving childcare provision, making flexible working available to everyone, and tackling the rising cost of living."

Read more about The Fawcett Society and Equal Pay Day by clicking here.



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