8.5 million women 'will have retired' before the UK achieves equal pay

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
File photo dated 11/09/18 of models of a man and woman on a pile of coins and bank notes. The coronavirus crisis has confirmed that working women are still underpaid and undervalued, 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, according to the TUC.
Equal pay will not come until 2052, according to Labour. Photo: PA

More than 8 million working women will have retired by the time the UK achieves equal pay as progress slows closing the gender pay gap, according to Labour.

Friday (20 November) marks ‘Equal Pay Day,’ the date after which campaigners say the average female worker effectively stops earning compared to men because of the gender pay gap.

The gap in average earnings will not be closed until 2052 if progress only continues at the pace seen over the past decade, according to analysis by the UK’s main opposition party.

Some 8.5 million female workers in their mid-30s or older will have reached the state pension age by the time Britain reaches the milestone, the figures suggest.

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Labour is calling for a new right for female workers to find out how much male colleagues are being paid to do the same work, by updating equal pay legislation.

It is also demanding a review into the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis on women, and confirmation that large employers will have to resume gender pay gap reporting next March.

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The government suspended enforcement of pay reporting because of the pandemic earlier this year, with equalities minister Liz Truss acknowledging the “unprecedented uncertainty and pressure” facing employers.

Employers with more than 250 staff would normally risk investigations and fines for failure to publish pay differentials under the reporting policy, introduced in 2017.

“We need urgent action to modernise equal pay legislation and restart pay gap reporting. The government must act now to prevent this crisis from further cementing women’s economic inequality,” said Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow equalities minister.

The opposition noted other studies had shown women were more likely to work in sectors struggling because of the pandemic, be furloughed and be hit hard economically by the crisis.

READ MORE: COVID-19 sparks ‘stark’ divide in hiring across the UK

Labour also claimed progress has slowed in closing the gender pay gap during the Conservatives’ time in power since 2010.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures published this month show the average median hourly earnings gap dropped by 4.3 percentage points between 2010 and 2020, with women now earning 15.5% less than men.

The gap had fallen by 6.9% in the decade to 2010, when Labour was in government. The divides are starker among full-time staff and among higher earners.

Separate figures released on Thursday showed 95% of CEO hires at leading UK companies this year were male, marking the second year in a row the proportion had increased.

Leadership advisory Heidrick & Struggles, which compiled the data, said firms were understandably prioritising leaders with experience during the crisis, but warned it was hindering diversity as “most experienced CEOs are older white males.”

Meanwhile Zurich insurance said earlier this week its decision to advertise all vacancies as potentially flexible, part-time or job shares had boosted applications by 16% and senior female hires by 33%.

A government Equalities Office spokesperson said: "We know that businesses have been working flat out during this crisis and we recognise the commitment of the vast majority of them to promoting equality in their workforces.

"This government is fully committed to ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to progress in the workplace. We are aware that work in the retail, care and hospitality sectors have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and that is why we have ensured a comprehensive package of support is in place.

"As we look to unite the country and recover from the pandemic it is key that companies embrace flexible working initiatives which have a positive impact on recruitment and the productivity of staff."

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