New figures show gender pay gap narrows

Women working full time are still earning on average £99 a week less than men despite the biggest fall in the pay gap since records began, according to Office for National Statistics figures released today.

Women working full time are still earning on average £99 a week less than men despite the biggest fall in the pay gap since records began, according to Office for National Statistics figures released today.

The figures for the year to April 2010 show the gender pay gap narrowed from 12.2% in 2009 to 10.2% in 2010, the biggest drop since the measure began in 1997.  Average earnings of full-time male employees were £538 per week in April 2010, up 1.3%, compared to £439 for women, up 3.1%. Part of the difference is explained by the large number of women who work part time – 42% of women compared to just 12% of men.

The figures show average weekly pay for full-time employees in the UK grew by 2.1 per cent to reach £499. Ten per cent of full-time employees earned more than £984 per week, while 10 per cent earned less than £276. The statistics show the gap between highest and lowest earners has slightly narrowed with workers at the bottom of the scale getting an average 2 per cent increase in pay, compared to a 1.3 per cent increase for those at the top.

Average gross weekly earnings for full-time employees were highest for 40 to 49-year-olds at £560. However, it was men who reached their highest earnings in this age group at £614. Women reached their highest earnings in the 30 to 39-year-old age group where they earned up to £508 a week. After this their earnings steadily decreased.

The difference between average full-time earnings in the public sector (£554 per week) and the private sector (£473 per week) widened over the year. The full-time occupations with the highest earnings in 2010 were ‘Health professionals’ (average pay of full-time employees of £1,067 a week); followed by ‘Corporate managers’ (£757); and ‘Science and technology professionals’ (£704). The lowest paid of all full-time employees were those in ‘Sales occupations’, at £287 a week.

Charles Cotton, Adviser on Performance and Reward at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said: "We should treat the findings with an element of caution. The smaller gap is a reflection of the state of the economy between April 2008 and April 2009, when many men were impacted by pay freezes and cuts. Between these dates, by contrast, women saw their pay rise relatively faster, as they are more likely to be covered by public sector deals or increases linked to the national minimum wage. The fear is that this gap could widen as the private sector starts to power ahead in 2011.;

"That is not to say that employers are absolved from trying to reduce the pay gap. When significant amounts of investor or tax payer money is being spent on salary and wages it’s important to ensure that pay reflects employee performance, behaviours and skills, rather than prejudice and bias."

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of campaign group the Fawcett Society, commented: “These figures put paid to the idea that the pay gap will go away by itself; at a time when the government has opted for no increase in its own powers to tackle the problem.
“Only last week the Minister for Equalities, Theresa May, announced that she would not enact Section 78 of the  Equality Act. The clause provides an opportunity for government to take action to close the gender pay gap by sending a clear signal to all employers that unequal pay has no place in the 21st century workplace. It would give government powers to require big business to measure and publish any gaps in their male and female pay rates if voluntary progress is not forthcoming. Failing do so sends a dangerous signal that tackling discrimination against women is a choice not a requirement, and armed with these new figures Fawcett urges the government to reconsider this decision.
“The gender pay gap is complex and its causes are multi-faceted. Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees and reforming the parental leave system have the potential to make a huge difference to employer practices and women’s opportunities in the workplace. We look forward to seeing the details of the government’s proposals on these manifesto commitments.
“Progress on equal pay is stalling, and at a time when more women face losing their jobs more than ever before, the government must do more not less to tackle the problem.”

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