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Gender Pay Gap

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

1. On what criteria her most recent estimate of the gender pay gap in the (a) public and (b) private sector is based. (282089)

4. On what criteria her most recent estimate of the gender pay gap in the (a) public and (b) private sector is based. (282092)

The criteria used for estimating the gender pay gap are the same for the public and private sectors. The estimate uses data published by the Office for National Statistics that show that the median hourly gender pay gap for all workers, both full and part-time, is 28.3 per cent. in the private sector and 22 per cent. in the public sector.

I am concerned that the Government continue to set such a poor example with their own staff. The Financial Times has obtained unpublished figures from the ONS showing gender pay gaps within the same grade of 12.5 per cent. in the Ministry of Defence and 19.5 per cent. in the Met Office. Can the Government not do better with their own staff?

I served with the hon. Gentleman on the Work and Pensions Committee and I know that he cares about low pay, but he needs to change his party urgently. The Tories voted against the Equality Bill on Second Reading, even though it will bring in help regarding unequal pay on a gender basis. Moreover, they have just voted in Committee against business even being asked to disclose pay figures that would make the pay gap transparent, and thus exert pressure on firms to press for equality for women. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is a siren voice, and a lone one, from the Tory Benches. I am very glad to say that this afternoon the BBC will publish pay figures for its top 100 executives—

The Minister is simply not answering the question. She has not gone into any detail about the criteria involved, and I should have thought that the Government would have more influence on pay disparity in the public sector. Will she accept my party’s suggestion that every secondary school in the country should have a dedicated and professional careers adviser?

Another forlorn and futile gesture from the Tory party. We will make progress in the public sector through the Equality Bill and the regulations on disclosure that it will put in place, which the hon. Gentleman’s party voted against. In Committee, his party has systematically voted against all the provisions that would help to improve equal pay in both the public and private sectors—a particular pity, since poverty academics are now clear that the most important step to eliminate child poverty is to bring in equal pay for women, but clearly the Tories do not care about that either.

But is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the largest pay gap in Britain is in the financial services sector, where full-time women are paid 55 per cent. less than full-time men, and part-timers 39 per cent. less? As we own many of the banks responsible for that poor pay, what can the Government do?

My hon. Friend is right. The reason she is able to quote those figures is that the Government asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to look into the appalling pay inequity in that sector and make recommendations for the way forward. Let me assure her that when we get the Equality Bill through Committee, despite the best efforts of the Tories to block it, there will be an impact in that sector, too.

I think we have just heard a quick claim from the Opposition to put up the pay of public sector workers. In areas such as mine in Aberdeen, men generally work in the private sector in the oil and gas industries with very high wages, while women work in the public sector for much lower wages. That is why we have a gender pay gap whereby women earn only two thirds of what men earn.

My hon. Friend again makes clear how little concern there is among the Opposition about equal pay for women. We will make an analysis this very afternoon of the BBC’s top 100 executive salaries to see where the gender pay gap is there. Transparency is hugely important—it is a pity the Tories do not understand that.

The hon. and learned Lady really knows better than that. She knows perfectly well that in Committee, we made it very clear that we recognise there is a real problem. The argument is over the solutions. The Office for National Statistics made it clear that the gender pay gap is 12.8 per cent. The Government’s proposals in clause 73 of the Equality Bill, which we opposed because we think they will not analyse the problem, will tackle only direct and indirect discrimination. How much of the 12.8 per cent. pay gap does the Minister think is accounted for by direct and indirect discrimination? The Equal Opportunities Commission research suggests less than 5 per cent.

The pay gap is 28.3 per cent. in the private sector and 22 per cent. in the public sector. The Tory figures leave out part-time workers. The Tories do that all the time, clearly thinking that part-time workers are a separate breed of second-class citizens, as they are mostly women. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) made a long speech in Committee asserting that discrimination was a very minor reason for unequal pay, which is not what most trade unionists and others in the field believe. Even he did not say there was no discriminatory unequal pay, yet the Tories voted against the very measure that would tackle it.

Although we disagree on mandatory and voluntary pay audits, if we are to have voluntary pay gender information and it has not worked by 2013—because the matrix has not worked or whatever—what threshold will the Minister be looking at to determine whether the scheme has not worked? What percentage of companies will need to have voluntarily displayed at that point?

That is a really good question. As the hon. Lady knows, the commission, the TUC, the CBI and other employer and employee organisations will be working on what we should measure. They will also report annually on how the work is progressing. Part of their consideration now will be exactly how we should measure that progress.