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Gender Pay Gap

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 26 November 2015

1. What steps the Government are taking to tackle the gender pay gap; and if she will make a statement. (902379)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I could not be clearer: we want to consign the gender pay gap to the history books. We are therefore introducing new regulations that will require larger employers to publish their gender pay gap information. That will encourage companies to take action and to drive change on this important issue. Transparency is important, and we also want to tackle the underlying causes of the gap, which is why I want to see girls entering the broadest range of careers and reaching the top of their professions.

Will the Secretary of State, who I know cares about this issue, symbolically forgo her salary from 9 November until the end of the calendar year so that she knows from personal experience what it feels like to do the work of a male colleague but for 20% less salary? Does she not think that all Governments have failed in this field, and that now is the time not to have declarations about change over a generation, but to seize the legislative agenda, for which she would have massive support across the House, finally to bring pay equality to women in our country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question, but I am not interested in tokenistic gestures. He can give up his salary if he feels so strongly about it and wants to make a statement. The important thing is that this Government are taking action on the issue, which his party did not do in 13 years of government. He is right to say that the matter now needs to be tackled by legislation, and the Government will publish regulations shortly to make that happen.

Women over 40 endure the biggest gender pay gap. What specific policies does the Minister have to address that problem?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for her question, and I know her Committee will be considering this area. She may be interested to know that figures published earlier this month show a 1.6 percentage point drop in the gender pay gap for women aged between 40 and 49, and that is repeated in the over-50s and the over-60s. She is absolutely right to say that this matter needs to be tackled. I have mentioned the regulations, which will provide the necessary transparency. We are also doing a lot of work on how we can help women to juggle caring responsibilities, which come when they are older. Of course they can also request flexible working as introduced by this Government.

At the gender gap presentation the other evening we heard how gender diversity must not be an add-on to another role, and yet it seems that, as Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Lady has had her role added on. What action will she take to ensure that there is someone dedicated to the task in every Department to get rid of the gender gap?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was a Member of this House in the last Parliament when I was Minister for Women and Equalities. I was delighted to take the role with me into this Parliament. In fact, I have been Minister for Women and Equalities longer than I have been Secretary of State for Education. It is a role about which I feel passionate. Just by looking at the array of Ministers on the Front Bench today, he will see that this Government take very seriously their equalities responsibilities. Whether we are talking about the gender pay gap or any other matter, those responsibilities run right the way through all the Departments in this Government.

Will the Minister put in the Library the gender pay gap of all Government Departments and all Government quangos, because an awful lot of Government quangos have a gender pay gap? Perhaps the Government should sort out their own house first, before they go round lecturing everyone else.

The hon. Gentleman tempts me very much. He might be interested to know that the overall gender pay gap for all civil service employees fell from 13.6% in 2014 to 12.8% in March 2014. The gender pay gap in the Department for Education is 9% and it is 11% in the Ministry of Justice. The regulations that we are publishing will also apply to the public sector. As that information is public, I would be very happy to write to him with it.

According to figures published last week in the annual survey of hours and earnings, the gender pay gap in the UK fell by 0.8 percentage points to 9.5%. However, in Scotland, the gap dropped by 1.8 percentage points to 7.5%. Will the Minister learn lessons from the action taken by the Scottish Government who are cutting the gender pay gap further and faster?

The hon. Lady is right to say that the gender pay gap in Scotland is lower, and that is why I was delighted to visit Scotland recently to meet counterparts in the Scottish Government, successful female entrepreneurs and Professor Lesley Sawers, who has, at the request of the UK Government, been doing a lot of work in Scotland on women in enterprise. One reason we are stronger together is that we can all learn lessons from each other.

At 35%, the gender pay gap in the finance and insurance sectors is the biggest in the land. What are the Government doing to tackle that?

I am delighted to say that those sectors are already taking responsibility for tackling the issue. They are learning from the Government’s voluntary approach to women on boards, and I am pleased that Jayne-Anne Gadhia from the finance sector and others in the insurance sector have recently launched voluntary initiatives to ensure that companies publish their own gender pay gap. Larger companies will, of course, also be caught by the regulations that we are due to publish shortly.

The Minister has rightly highlighted the fact that the public sector is very good at closing the gender pay gap, in comparison with the private sector. The Resolution Foundation estimates that care workers are collectively paid £130 million below the national minimum wage because of employers’ failure to pay for travel time and deductions for essentials such as uniforms, mobile phones and petrol. What steps is the Minister taking to close the pay gap in that part of the private sector, in which 78% of workers are women?

The hon. Lady is right to point out that certain sectors—not only care, but clerical, secretarial and others—are very female dominated, which contributes to the ongoing gender pay gap. That is why I welcome the focus, which we will come to in later questions, on raising girls’ aspirations for their jobs and careers. The Government are committed to enforcing the national minimum wage, and only recently we published the names of employers who do not pay their employees the national minimum wage. That is unacceptable and we will continue to make that information public.