The gender pay gap has fallen by approximately a quarter in the last decade. The Conservative Government introduced gender pay gap reporting, building on the pay protections we already have in the Equality Act 2010. That has motivated employers to look at their pay data and include workplace gender equality.
The gender pay gap feeds the pension gap, which impacts on a large proportion of women in the UK. The Government do not even have a suitable definition for the gender pension gap. I have campaigned on this issue for many years, so does the Minister agree that delays in reducing the gender pension gap are simply unacceptable? What representations has she made to her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to urgently address this?
The gender pensions gap, as the hon. Lady has described it, is a complex issue. It is tied to the labour market, the pensions system and demographic differences. By 2030 more than 3 million women will have benefited from a higher state pension through our new state pension reforms. On average, female pensioners will receive around £570 a year more than they would have received under the previous system. That is the work that we are doing to address this issue.
Fawcett Society evidence shows that more than a third of women want to work, but are prevented by reasons including a lack of flexible working options and affordable childcare. The reforms proposed in the UK Government’s consultation still require employees to request flexible working. Will the Minister ensure that that is enshrined as a day one right to support women to remain in work and to help tackle the gender pay gap?
The hon. Lady will know that we are supporting the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill. That private Member’s Bill will deliver changes, including requiring employers to consult with an employee, as a means of exploring alternative options, before rejecting a request for flexible working; and enabling employees to make two flexible working requests a year—up from one—and receive faster decisions on their requests. Employees will no longer be required to explain the impact of their requests for flexible working arrangements on the employer. We think that will go a long way to resolve the issues around flexible working.
Campaigners are highlighting the twin impacts of the gender pay gap and the cost of living crisis on women. What support is my right hon. Friend giving to women who are struggling financially?
My hon. Friend will know that the support we provide is based on need and not protected characteristics, so the decisive action we have taken has been to support households across the UK, while remaining fiscally responsible. We are delivering the largest ever increase in the national living wage, benefiting more than 2 million people—disproportionately women—and prioritising support for the most vulnerable families, increasing benefits in line with inflation, so that more than 10 million working-age families see an increase in their benefit payments.
I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.
According to the Fawcett Society, the UK Government lag behind other European countries in making companies act to close the gender pay gap and they have failed to introduce mandatory reporting of pay differences based on ethnicity. If the UK Government are serious about driving down pay inequality, why will they not require employers to set out action plans to improve gender equality and why will they not mandate intersectional ethnicity pay gap reporting? If they are not serious and they continue to refuse to act, will they devolve employment law to Scotland so that we can do it ourselves?
As I have said in almost every discussion about equality—and I am prepared to say again—mandatory ethnicity reporting is not the appropriate tool. Ethnicity pay gap reporting cannot be compared to gender pay gap reporting. Gender pay gap reporting is binary; ethnicity pay gap reporting goes across at least 19 groups. It is dependent on geography, among other things, as well as representation within the workforce.
We need to do what we can to make sure that employers do the right thing, but the sorts of interventionist policies that the hon. Lady raises are not helpful and they make things worse. They obscure the data and do absolutely nothing to address the issues around ethnicity pay gap reporting that she describes.