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Women: Wages

Volume 754: debated on Wednesday 25 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to address any fall in wages of women in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Office for National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings shows that pay for women working both full-time and part-time is rising. To support these women, we are helping with the cost of childcare, introducing shared parental leave, extending flexible working to all and raising the income tax threshold, which means that 1.83 million women will be taken out of income tax by April 2015.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Obviously we have a difference of opinion about the figures from the Office for National Statistics, because they tell us that between 2013 and 2014 women’s mean full-time earnings fell to what amounts to an average loss of £52 over the year. So, unlike men, women working full-time have seen their actual take-home pay fall. I ask the Minister to go back and look at those figures because that gender inequality is not acceptable. What steps will the Government take to remedy it?

I hope that the noble Baroness will be reassured that I have looked at the figures; I have them with me. She will know that the previous Government used the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, which is what I have just cited, and not the survey she cited. That is in part because of the difference between median and mean, which no doubt I do not have to go into in depth with her. Also, the survey she is looking at went up in the last quarter, while now there is a slight drop. However, it is self-reported, whereas the survey I am referring to is based on PAYE and HMRC information. That is the survey the Government use and which her Government used.

My Lords, almost two-thirds of people in low-paid work, those earning £7 per hour or less, are women. The gender gap is still in existence, although it is narrowing, and women are still underrepresented in senior executive roles, particularly in science and technology. What is being done to take a really comprehensive look at the serious factors which contribute to gender inequalities in the workplace?

My noble friend is right to highlight the different areas that men and women often work in. There is encouraging news in that the gender pay gap has narrowed and is now close to zero for full-time employees under the age of 40. However, you start to see a differential as you move into the older cohorts. That is to do with the areas that people work in and the fact that many more women are working part-time. The median hourly wage for part-time workers is £8.29 as opposed to £13.03 for full-time workers.

How many prosecutions have taken place for non-payment of the minimum wage? I ask that because it would be mostly women who were affected among the low-paid workers in this country.

My Lords, are not more and more women taking their remuneration into their own hands by setting up their own businesses, which has become increasingly easy to do?

Yes. The number of self-employed women has increased to 1.42 million. There are more women-led businesses than ever before and more women in employment than ever before, with wages going up.

My Lords, there is nothing so deskilling as motherhood. The reason that women are paid less after the age of 40 is that very often they have domestic duties. What are the Government doing to assist mothers to have enough support in the early stages so as not to withdraw from the labour market?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is at the core of this issue. It is why, as I said in my initial Answer, we are trying to increase the provision of affordable, high-quality childcare and to make sure that people can access shared parental leave. We are encouraging fathers as well as mothers to take that leave and to take up flexible working.

My Lords, the Living Wage Commission published its final report yesterday. It makes it clear that people in the care industry are paid very poorly—and the majority happen to be women. Will the Government take a reality check and recognise that people in the care professions are paid poorly? Will they make sure that, in terms of procurement, local authorities encourage those in the care profession to pay at least the living wage, which we wanted to be voluntary and not compulsory? If that does not happen, concern about women being paid poorly will continue. It is a stain on the conscience of this country that people work hard and are still in poverty.

I read the report of the most reverend Primate’s commission with enormous interest. I note that he has just said that he is looking for a voluntary approach rather than regulation, but he challenges responsible employers to pay a fair wage. He is right to identify the difference in pay between men and women.