The gender pay gap is at its narrowest ever and has been entirely eliminated among full-time workers under the age of 40. Of course the gender pay gap is still too wide, which is why we are closing it further by encouraging girls and young women to consider a wider range of careers, including well-paid careers in technology and engineering.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Successful businesses know that they cannot afford to miss out on the talents and experiences of half our population, and the Government are working closely with business on that, especially through the Women’s Business Council, which was established by this Government in 2012. We are helping businesses to ensure that women can fully contribute to the country’s economic growth.
It is great that the pay gap has been eradicated for women under the age of 40, but if a woman happens to be aged between 40 and 49, the pay gap is 13.9%, and if they are aged between 50 and 59, it is over 18%. That is clearly unacceptable. Will the Minister now direct her attention towards ensuring the eradication of the pay gap for those aged over 40?
As I have already mentioned, research shows that the pay gap is mostly not about direct discrimination, but about the jobs and sectors that women enter and the progress that they make, particularly if they take time out of the labour market. In November, we announced that we were investing over £2 million in helping women, especially women over 40 and those working part time, to move from low-paid, low-skilled work to higher paid, higher-skill work. That programme of work is delivered by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which will start by focusing on helping women to develop skills in science, technology, engineering and maths, retail, hospitality and the agricultural sector.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development research shows that people stuck in low pay—women who have been in low-paid jobs for 10 years—are more likely to be unable to escape it. I have not heard from the Minister any strategy to help those older women escape low pay. It is all very well talking about money, but what is happening on the ground to help older women?
The hon. Lady did not listen to the answer that I have just given. We are investing money, working with organisations such as the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and particularly looking at enabling women in low-paid, low-skill work to develop further skills, for exactly the reasons that she cited—so that they can have higher paid jobs, which obviously provides more security for them and their families.
I wonder whether the Minister would accept that the Government made a mistake in not implementing compulsory reporting on gender pay. Not enough businesses have voluntarily taken up such reporting. It is not too late to make the change; perhaps she would like to commit to doing so.
We as a Government have always said that we would keep that section under review, but I believe that it will be much better, and we shall achieve much more systemic change, with companies thinking very hard about the pay that they offer their employees and about the diversity in their work force, if we work with them on the voluntary approach—the Think, Act, Report approach—rather than burdening them with more regulations.