John Penrose (Shadow Minister, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; Weston-Super-Mare, Conservative)
I might have misunderstood what the hon. Lady was saying, but I was talking about the gender pay gap, not gender pay audits. The gap is, obviously, the thing that we are all trying to close; audits are one method by which people might try to close it. The number of people doing gender pay audits might have gone up or down in the past couple of years, but the important thing is whether the gap has continued to decrease. Based on ONS figures, the decrease has been relatively steady since 1978 or so. There was an initial dip and then a surge back upwards in the first couple of years, since when it has been, if not quite a straight line, as close to a straight line as statistics will come.
I do not want to overplay things. There is clearly more to do. There is an injustice, and I hope and expect that Members from all parties are determined to deal with it and close the gap, but it is none the less worth while to put some boundaries and numbers on the size of the problem that remains to be dealt with, because it is important. During this mornings sitting, we discussed proportionality and whether the measures proposed in clause 73 on gender pay audits are a proportional way of achieving the benefit that we all want. It is therefore important for us to quantify the size of the prize at which we are all aiming.
We alluded this morning to considering the different causes of the gender pay gap, but I wanted to give more detail and colour to the underlying reasons for the pay gap in this country, because it is clearly important to understand the enemy in order to conquer it. The Equal Opportunities Commission published Modelling gender pay gaps in 2004, and its findings were that a number of different factors underpin the pay gap. The document says:
Gender differences in lifetime working patterns account for 36% of the pay gap.
If the gap is currently 13 per cent., 36 per cent. of that is accounted for by gender differences in lifetime working patterns, which the EOC goes on to explain means that, on average, women work for fewer years than men in full-time employment and have more interruptions to employment for child care and other family care. That is understandable and perfectly reasonable, and provided that such decisions are taken on the basis of free will and individual choice, it is a facet of modern life. However, if some of those decisions are taken under societal pressures or because of an absence of adequate child care, for example, there may be some unfair systemic disadvantage for women. That is something that any Government of any stripe, I hope, would want to address.
It is interesting to note in passing that the kinds of thing that any Government would want to do to address such unfairness would revolve not necessarily around discrimination law but around social policy dealing with disadvantage. For example, the Government might try to ensure that more affordable child care is available for working women in particular, not just at the right price, but at the right times of day or night for those in shift work and on the right days of the week so that those whose jobs require them to work at weekends are not closed out of them, and so on.