Women Are Still Facing the Gender Pay Gap

Article excerpt

It still takes many people by surprise that women at work earn half as much as men on average.

"Is it still as little as that?" asks Dinah Bennett, programme director of Women into the Network at Durham Business School. "I thought it was nearer 60pc by now."

But no - figures from the Department of Trade and Industry, just out, show that average income for women, including part-time and home workers, was pounds 145 a week in 2001-2 against pounds 287 for men.

Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, says: "It is well known that women's income declines after they have children. This is because they are either forced out of the labour market, due to the lack of workplace flexibility, or have to take less skilled jobs to work family-friendly hours."

Little wonder, then, that women are more likely than men to be poor throughout their lives, according to a recent report by the Trades Union Congress.

It found nearly two-thirds of women had a sub-average income, compared with just over half of the adult male population.

Little wonder, again, that the Transport and General Workers Union has found many mothers have to spend 45.7pc of their daily earnings on care for their under-twos.

There's no reprieve even in twilight years, for single women then have an average disposable income of pounds 125 a week, compared with pounds 156 for single men living on pensions.

The situation is getting better. Women's earnings have improved to the halfway mark from 46pc of men's earnings in 1996-97.

But it's a creeping progress. There is still, clearly, far to go. And now some campaigners pressing for a faster attainment of equality say this is no sexist attack on the wage market: that, similarly, the problem of increasing numbers of men forced to find a job that fits their responsibilities as heads of single-parent families will have to be addressed.

The lag in women's wages, though, is "unacceptable" to Roger Lyons, joint general secretary of Amicus, the skilled and professional workers' union.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Institute of Directors also acknowledges a position far from ideal.

Richard Taylor, a spokesman for the institute, says: "While we have not done any recent surveys or research into the gender pay gap, we know a gap exists from our surveys of members' salaries.

"But we also see more women directors emerging who are earning salaries similar to their male counterparts.

"There are circumstances, however, where gaps obviously exist. Given that these are usually influenced by extraneous factors, it is difficult to know what can be done to ease it," Mr Taylor adds.

Patricia Hewitt, on the Government side, says women are being offered more choices.

"If women want to work," she told the Financial Times, "then we have in place a package that offers them a sensible mix of support such as increased maternity pay and leave, and flexible working."

She also points out that the new children's tax credit goes directly to women who wish to stay at home as the main child carer.

But at the Confederation of British Industry, regional director Steve Rankin in Newcastle says Britain lags far behind France, Belgium and some other European states in providing support for creches and other childcare facilities which would enable mothers, in particular, to raise their earning potential. It is argued in some corporate quarters, still, that anyone unable to give themselves freely to a company, man or woman, should not expect the same rewards as others who do. …

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