Earnings: Gender

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 18th April 2013.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 9:30 am, 18th April 2013

What assessment she has made of the most recent statistics on differential earnings for women and men in the (a) public and (b) private sector.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

The gender pay gap is falling and currently stands at 19% in the public sector and 26% in the private sector. The causes of the gender pay gap are varied: roughly a third can be attributed to education and the types of jobs women do; about a third can be attributed to work patterns and the need to take time out of the labour market, for example for caring; and the remaining third is unexplained, which could include discrimination. The Government are committed to tackling the gender pay gap and believe that we absolutely need to get it down.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her commitment on this issue. More than one in five of the lowest paid full-time women workers earn under £80 a week, and it is much worse for women in low pay than it is for men. Will she indicate that the Government have that in their sights and have a strategy for dealing with inequality across the wage range, particularly for those struggling at the very bottom end of the income scale?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My right hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the gender pay gap is lowest for those at the lowest end, with a 7% gap in the bottom 10%, compared with a 23% gap in the top 10%, but there is absolutely no room for complacency. This week, as he will know, we announced a 1.9% increase in the national minimum wage, which is set against a 0.8% increase in wages, according to the most recent ONS statistics. Of course, two thirds of the beneficiaries of that rise in the national minimum wage will be women.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

The Government’s report, “Think, Act, Report: one year on”, states that 54 organisations have signed up to the Government’s voluntary equality pay scheme. Given that there are 6,000 businesses in the UK that employ more than 250 people, does the Minister think that a 0.9% sign-up rate demonstrates sufficient voluntary progress on equal pay?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Clearly, we want to increase the number of organisations signed up to “Think, Act, Report”, but we have also been focusing on those that employ the largest number of workers. The current figures show that more than 80 organisations and large-scale employers have signed up, which represents 1.3 million employees. I think that is a key figure, because 1.3 million employees are now protected by companies that are ensuring that they not only consider what they need to do to tackle the pay gap, but act on it and, importantly, through transparency, report on what they have been doing.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 requires businesses that employ more than 250 people to measure and publish their gender pay gap figures. Will the Government implement that and, if not, what is the problem with doing so?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

When the Government launched the “Think, Act, Report” initiative, we set out the fact that we believed it would be helpful if companies took a voluntary approach in pursuing this matter. Of course, we have not ruled out commencing that part of the 2010 Act at some future point, and we have also brought forward legislation—this measure is set out in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill—that will force organisations found guilty of breaching equal pay laws to conduct equal pay audits. I think that there is a clear message to be sent to employers: they should get their house in order on equal pay, or the equal pay audits will be coming down the track.