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Gender Pay Gap

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

The Government are committed to reducing the gender pay gap, which has been brought down from 17.4 per cent. to 12.6 per cent. in the past decade. We have introduced other supportive measures, including increased maternity pay, improved access to child care and Britain’s first ever minimum wage. We have also introduced the right to request flexible working and will announce further measures shortly in the Equality Bill.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but can she say what part gender stereotypes play in the pay gap, and what she intends to do about it?

Gender stereotyping leads to occupational segregation. That is crucial in addressing the gender pay gap, and particularly true the older the person or the woman in the work force. Women can be deterred by the lack of part-time and flexible working in male-dominated occupations, as well as by poor information and social stereotypes. That is clear when we realise that the gender pay gap is 20 per cent. in the City and in private businesses as opposed to 10.4 per cent. in public ones.

The Government have taken a range of actions to address that, including the introduction and extension of the right to request flexible working, new support for teachers teaching careers and a series of proposed initiatives including targeted funding to encourage young people to consider atypical career choices when applying for apprenticeships.

Does the Minister share my concern about reports that Nottingham city council is reducing the wages of 1,400 of its employees to achieve equal pay, rather than increasing the salary of the women? Should not equal pay mean levelling up, not levelling down?

Obviously it should, but local authorities are responsible for addressing their equal pay issues and we recognise that that is a difficult and costly pressure for many of them. However, I am glad to say that progress is being made. The latest figures show that 47 per cent. of councils have either implemented or completed their pay reviews with only 3 per cent. yet to start them.

Last year, the Government issued £500 million-worth of capitalisation directions to 46 local authorities, allowing them to borrow against the cost of back pay arising from equal pay deals, thus spreading the load of this one-off cost over a number of years. Councils can also apply for that borrowing facility in the current year.

One of the most resistant councils in respect of equal pay claims would appear to be Bury under its new Conservative leadership. For more than a year, Bury council has refused to negotiate with Unison, and has prevaricated, delayed and rejected the Government’s offer of capitalisation. There is no progress. Will the Minister speak to her Department for Communities and Local Government colleagues to put some pressure on Bury council to move forward on the issue, because it is completely unfair that low-paid women workers in my constituency should have to wait any longer to get their just desserts?

I commend my hon. Friend on his championing of those low-paid women in his constituency and I will discuss the matter with DCLG colleagues, but, as I said, pay is a matter for local authorities and the decision is theirs.