Address the gender pay gap…but not now

Surveys for International Women’s Day show women doing much more during lockdown, concerns that the gender pension gap could grow and a disconnect between the numbers worried about the gender pay gap and those thinking it should be a priority after Covid.

Gender Pay gap


People in the UK are among those least likely to address the gender pay gap as society rebuilds after the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new global study to mark International Women’s Day.

The 28-country study for the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London found 28% of the British public say closing the gender pay gap is important and should be one of our top priorities right now – much lower than similar western European nations, such as France (51%), Spain (46%) and Italy (44%), and lower than the majority of the other countries included in the study, which are all more likely to see this issue as a greater priority at the moment.

But the study also found people in the UK are most likely to be sympathetic to the need to address the gender pay gap – a majority (54%) say concerns about the gender pay gap are a response to a real problem, but nearly one in five (18%) think they’re an example of political correctness going too far. By 48% to 61%, men are less likely than women to see such concerns as a response to a genuine problem.

One in 10 people in the UK (10%) say they think reports about the gender pay gap in the media are fake news – compared with 44% who think such reports are telling the truth. One in seven (15%) men believe such reports are fake news, more than double the proportion of women who say the same (6%).

The majority support greater transparency over pay, with 54% saying that people should have the right to know what other colleagues doing the same work are paid – more than double the 23% who disagree. 50% of men and 59% of women support this proposal.

Flexible working (46%), better mental health support services (36%) and better social care for the elderly or vulnerable (31%) are seen as the most important priorities for women post-Covid.

Gender pension gap

The report comes on International Women’s Day, amid a plethora of other surveys. A report from Scottish Widows says the average British woman in her twenties today will retire with £100,000 less in her pension than her male peers. The firm’s research pointed to women’s lower average earnings, higher probability of working part time and heavier childcare burden as reasons for the gap. It says that to reach retirement parity, a woman in her 20s today will have to work 37 years longer than a man the same age to accumulate the same income.

According to the research, over the first 15 years of their careers, women on average save about £2,200 a year, compared to £3,300 for men. The difference only widens over a lifetime as wage increases lead to significant inequalities in retirement income.

Jackie Lieper, managing director of pensions at Scottish Widows, said she feared the pandemic might widen the gap. She said: “We know that young women have been some of the hardest hit by the short-term financial impact of the pandemic and this has only exacerbated the challenge of reaching pensions parity.” More than a third (36%) of women under the age of 25 work in hardest hit sectors such as hospitality and retail, and almost half (49%) have been furloughed. Many women have also reduced their hours or taken time out as result of the pandemic. Scottish Widows points out that any reduction in hours or a career break will have an impact on pension outcomes, meaning either lower contributions or missing out on auto-enrolment.

Scottish Widows said it was important to start women saving early in their career to address the gender pension gap. A lack of engagement amongst young female savers is one factor contributing to lower savings levels. More than one in five (21%) women under 25 admit that they have not started thinking about retirement. Just 46% of women in their 20s are saving the recommended minimum of 12% of their income, compared to 56% of men.

Lieper said that of the average woman were to up her contribution at the start of her career to save an extra 4% into her pension, her pension pot at 68 could be £329,139, reducing the gender pensions gap by almost £75,000. Upping contributions by 5% would increase this to £94,000, which would close the gap almost completely.

Unequal burden

Meanwhile, a Mumsnet poll found 49% of women surveyed expect gender equality to go into reverse over the next few years as a result of the pandemic [compared to 32% who think it will improve] and 56% thought the UK was in danger of going back to the 1970s on gender equality.

69% say they are worried about the long-term impact of COVID on women’s employment and seniority at work. Of those women with caring responsibilities, 28% say their responsibilities have affected their professional reputation during the past year. 24% are considering leaving the workforce entirely, while a further 22% are considering becoming self-employed. 32% say they are ‘concerned’ about their sector’s prospects and viability in the near-to-mid-term future, including 82% of those employed in travel and tourism, and 70% of those employed in charity and social enterprises.

Women who work part-time have been particularly hard hit over the past year, with 13% saying they’ve had their hours at work reduced (as opposed to 7% of those in full-time work), and 21% saying they’re been furloughed (as opposed to 10% of those in full-time work).

Seventy per cent said they did all or most of the homeschooling; 73% said they did all or most of the laundry; 62% did the food shopping; and 61% did all or most of the cleaning and tidying up. The only domestic areas where women perceived there was near equality were children’s bath and bedtimes and pet care and 51% said their partner was the most likely to empty the bins.

69% said their partner had spent more time with the children during the pandemic and 43% said their partner had developed a greater understanding of the demands of childcare. Around a quarter said their partners were more likely to take on domestic tasks. Moreover, 70% say their employer is now more open to working from home and flexible working than they were before, while 94% that ‘lockdown has shown employers that working from home and flexible working are viable options’.

50% say their partner would like to work from home more, or work more flexibly, in the future, and 5% say their partner is actively considering changing jobs or reducing their hours to spend more time with the children – rising to 12% in the under-35 age group.

Campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed released a recording of distraught voicemails from mothers to highlight the plight of mothers during the pandemic. It set up a Scream or Shout (SOS) telephone line for women to scream and shout their frustrations at how let down they have been by the lack of government support during the pandemic, from pregnancy advice and pay calculations for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme to childcare support.

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