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Equal Pay (Information and Claims)

Volume 682: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2020

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to introduce a Bill to make provision for a right for employees to obtain information relating to the pay of a comparator; to reform remedies and time limits relating to equal pay; to provide a right to equal pay where a single source can rectify unequal pay; to amend the statutory statement of particulars to include equal pay; to provide for requirements on certain employers to publish information about the differences in pay between male and female employees and between employees of different ethnic origins; and for connected purposes.

Members could be forgiven for thinking that we have been here before, because women have been asking for equal pay since 1833. The first recorded instance was in Robert Owen’s labour exchange. I am sorry to say, as a Co-op MP, that it was not answered positively—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) would feel the same. One hundred and eighty-eight years later, we are still waiting. Last year alone, 30,000 equal pay claims were made at tribunal, and this year we have seen that the gender pay gap is increasing, not closing. That means that, in 2020, nine out of 10 women in this country work in companies or organisations that pay them less on average than their male counterparts.

I want to start by nailing the myth that it is the fault of the women themselves. It is not because they have kids or because they do not ask for pay rises. The evidence is crystal clear. Absolutely, there is a pay penalty for having a kid—I think we are all beginning to realise that—but it was there before the children were born. The evidence is also clear that women ask just as often as men for a pay rise, but men are four times more likely to receive it. The research shows that the impact of the gender pay gap comes from a mixture of things, including working for less productive companies, wanting to work part time, and good, old-fashioned discrimination. Even being a graduate does not help, as the pay gap begins early in many women’s careers.

We all miss out as a result of those inequalities. The Bank of England forecasts that ending the gender pay gap would add £600 billion to our economy by 2025, and ending discrimination against those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in the workplace, as this Bill seeks to do, would add £24 billion a year to our GDP. Given that we are now facing an economic crisis, there has never been a better time finally to grapple with why, even in 2020, not everybody gets an equal day’s pay for an equal day’s work.

It is not as if women have not tried to act through the centuries. Following the impact of the Dagenham Ford strikers, Barbara Castle’s legendary Equal Pay Act 1970 was passed before I was even born. The subsequent film, “Made in Dagenham”, may have won awards, but an equal pay award in this country is often much harder to come by, because it requires legal action.

Pay discrimination is prevalent because it is hard to get pay transparency. Unless a woman knows that a man who is doing equal work to her is being paid more, she cannot know whether she is being paid equally. At present, getting that information all too often requires going to court because it is not available. Equal pay tribunals make up 12% of employment claims in this country, but 40% of claimants settle because it is more stressful to continue and a third withdraw their cases due to cost. Only 41% of claimants are legally represented at the tribunals. Little wonder that many companies have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach and never analyse the pay in the company or the pay gap for fear of generating the information that might assist a claim in the first place.

That strategy works. As the Fawcett Society, which is working on this Bill, points out, six in 10 working women do not know whether they are being paid less than a male counterpart, and only three in 10 agreed that their employer would be honest with them and tell them if they were. Little wonder that some major household names, from the BBC to Tesco and Asda, have dragged their heels on these issues, making legal action the only option for women. That is why I pay tribute to women such as Carrie Gracie and Samira Ahmed, who have been prepared to stick their neck out on this, because it is really difficult to do so.

When I introduced this Bill, one woman wrote to me—hon. Members will understand why this is an anonymous case study—“In my previous role, I hired two junior staff members within six months of each other: one male, one female, both the same age, the same pedigree, the same salary expectations, hired to do the same role, sitting side by side. When I sought sign-off from my male boss to pay the female candidate the same salary, I was asked to offer her a starting salary at the bottom of the salary range. They told me in the business they pay people the least they think they can get away with, and they think she will accept less.” When the woman challenged that behaviour and pointed out the equal pay disparity, and that it could lead to a tribunal, she found her own career stymied. The promotion that she had been promised was denied to her because she was told that she had been too pushy on equal pay.

The Bill is about righting those wrongs. It has been drafted by a panel of legal and human resources experts, chaired by the amazing Daphne Romney QC. It seeks to break the culture of discrimination and the culture of secrecy that causes it. I pay tribute to Baroness Margaret Prosser, who has led this work in the other place and is a fearless champion of equal pay. The Bill implements a right to know, to give women the right to request the pay data of their male counterparts. If they suspect that an individual or group may constitute a comparator, they would have a right to know that information so that they could make the comparison without having to go to court and make a formal request. This is something that is supported by the British public. A new poll from Savanta shows that 62% of people think that if a woman is not paid equally for doing the same job as a man, she should be given the information so that she can challenge the situation.

The Bill is not just about equal pay. Women of colour, for too long, have been left out of the conversation about equality in the workplace. Without examining both race and gender we fail to understand the intersectionality of pay discrimination. The Bank of England estimates that the black and ethnic-minority pay gap is 10%. It has narrowed even less than the gender pay gap in the past 25 years, and is 25% in London. Restoring gender pay-gap reporting and expanding the principle to ethnicity pay-gap reporting will help to open up action on the barriers that mean that talent is denied throughout businesses and the public sector.

The Government said that they would act on the ethnicity pay gap, but action has not been forthcoming. Indeed, it is troubling that in the pandemic the only bit of business reporting and accountability that the Government said that businesses did not need to undertake was gender pay-gap reporting. What happens when we remove that focus on tackling inequality in the workplace? Two weeks after this year’s deadline, having been told that they did not have to do it, 10,000 eligible companies had not submitted their figures.

When we look at the figures, we see that the gap has increased. If we continue just to ask nicely, nothing will happen and our economy will miss out as a result. The Minister for Equalities told me that she wanted more data before she improved the way we did gender pay-gap reporting and ethnicity reporting, but if we are not even asking for that, we will never get anywhere on this.

Addressing this inequality could not be more timely. A survey by Pregnant Then Screwed shows that it was mainly mothers who faced redundancy and inequality in the workplace in the pandemic, partly because they could not secure childcare so that they could go back to work. As early as May, a study by PwC showed that 78% of people who had lost their job during the pandemic were women. Axing the gender pay-gap reporting process sends the message that that does not matter, but it should matter to all of us, because of the impact on our economy and society.

For nearly 200 years, women have been asking for parity, and with the pandemic bearing down on us, we cannot afford to wait any longer for action. I may be signing my own political death warrant if history is anything to go by in raising these issues. Like the anonymous case study that I cited, the history on this is not good. In contrast to that film, the strikers in 1968 were not looking for equal pay—they had been unjustly graded at work—and they did not get equal pay; they received 92% of the pay received by their male counterparts. The resulting investigation and fury from raising the issue led to the Equal Pay Act 1970—at the cost of Barbara Castle’s career. We should never forget to pay tribute to her. Despite opposition from those in the Labour Government at the time to amendments on equal pay, she stuck her neck out for other women and forced that Bill through, but she was lost from the Cabinet as a result, prompting her to tell a sponsor of the Bill—and another legend when it comes to fighting for women’s rights—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman),

“remember all Labour Prime Ministers are bastards”.

I hope that that will not be true, and I certainly hope that the Prime Minister will not fall into that type. My right hon. and learned Friend has made the case that this is a pro-business measure—we should all support it—which is why I am proud that it has support across the House.

That is not enough. The Minister needs to say, “Deeds not Words.” In 50 years, I hope that we have moved towards recognising that Barbara Castle was right. That discrimination is bad not just for those affected—it is bad for businesses and the economy as well. The measure now needs political will, so that we make sure that equal pay is not just a great fiction but a lived reality for everyone in this country.

Quite right, too!

Question put and agreed to.


That Stella Creasy, Caroline Nokes, Neil Gray, Nadia Whittome, Chris Bryant, Florence Eshalomi, Anne McLaughlin, Chris Evans, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Christine Jardine, Caroline Lucas and Ms Harriet Harman present the Bill.

Stella Creasy accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read the Second time on Friday 13 November and to be printed (Bill 199).

Barbara Castle was an absolute giant of a politician. I spoke to her often. I have happy memories of Barbara Castle.