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Minoritised Women: Pay Inequality

Volume 832: debated on Tuesday 19 September 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take to address the pay inequality experienced by Black, Asian and other minoritised women as identified in a report by the Fawcett Society, Ethnicity Motherhood Pay Penalty, published on 31 July.

My Lords, I think this demonstrates just how many Ministers it takes to do my noble friend Lady Scott’s job. I am sure the whole House joins me in wishing her well.

We are taking a number of steps to tackle unjust disparities in the workplace. We published new guidance in April to help employers measure, report and address unfair ethnicity pay differences. We are taking forward measures to improve access to flexible working, including our commitment to make the right to request flexible working apply from day one of employment. We have also launched an inclusion at work panel to develop resources to help employers achieve fairness and inclusion in the workplace more effectively and efficiently.

I thank the Minister and welcome her back to her old job, and of course I send my best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. This Question concerns three-way discrimination at play, which this report reveals. Black and minority ethnic women face a gender pay gap, an ethnicity pay gap and, on top of that, a clear motherhood pay penalty. This is particularly so for women of Pakistani heritage. I would like to know how this can be built into the kind of review that the Minister mentioned in the last part of her Answer.

I would agree with the noble Baroness on all fronts of her analysis. I will home in on Pakistani women in particular, who seem to have the worst effects of this—there are of course other ethnic minorities who fare better than their white British counterparts—we do a number of things, including outreach work, linking up with organisations that help women furthest from the labour market that we are talking about to move closer to employment. We have developed a proof of concept that targets Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, among others, who for mainly cultural and traditional reasons have struggled to engage with the labour market. We also have support available in jobcentres to that end.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned flexible working and the right of women returning to work to request it—but it is only a request, and it is in the hands of the employer. Given that over double the proportion of women from black and other ethnic minorities reported that they had no access to flexible working, compared with white mothers, this makes them more likely to drop out of the labour market or even stay locked in very low-paid work. So will she say whether the Government will commit to a duty for employers to include reasonable flexible working options in job advertisements, and to push it through?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. Not only will we make it a duty but we are intending to bring it into force soon, because the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 received Royal Assent in July of this year. It makes changes to the right to request flexible working, to better support those employers and employees that the noble Baroness is talking about.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that some pay and equality are associated with barriers to promotion, particularly in our public services? If so, what plans do His Majesty’s Government have to address improving promotion equity for women from black, Asian and other minority backgrounds?

My Lords, I am pleased to say that I think the workplace has totally changed, and that large organisations in particular do not want a homogenous workforce; they want a diverse workforce that actually represents this country and the various people who live in it. I have completely forgotten what the noble Baroness asked me now.

Promotion, absolutely. There should be no glass ceiling, my Lords. We have broken through it and we should continue to do so.

My Lords, I welcome the guidance that the noble Baroness mentioned, which the Government set out earlier this year, on how to collect ethnicity pay data for employees. I note that the equal pay alliance, of which the Fawcett Society is a member, has today published a manifesto arguing for mandatory ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting, along with mandatory action plans. Could my noble friend say what steps the Government are taking to publicise their guidance, and whether they have any plans to make the reporting of ethnicity pay data mandatory?

My Lords, mandatory reporting sounds like the perfect situation, but actually if you look into the granularity of it, as I just spoke about, it can actually be a bit of a blunt instrument that misses certain things: locational differences, regional pay differences and, as I said, there are differences within ethnicities themselves. The gender pay gap was a very simple binary reporting system, because we are talking about two groups. Ethnicity pay gap reporting involves maybe up to 19 groups, which makes it much more difficult, and for firms with small numbers it is less informative than one might think. The guidance that my noble friend was talking about was published on GOV.UK on 17 April and we have promoted it through employer engagement, including asking employer representative bodies to promote it through their networks.

My Lords, it is 50 years since we introduced equal pay law in this country and we are nowhere near equal pay, not just for minority women but women in general. When we care about regulation in a modern, democratic economy, whether it is health and safety standards, food standards or school standards, we give a state agency some responsibility both for monitoring, given the granularity issues the noble Baroness referred to, and enforcement. Is it not high time, as we approach 55 years of this equal pay principle, that we gave an agency such as the Revenue some responsibility for monitoring payroll and enforcing equal pay?

My Lords, that is quite complex, in the sense that some organisations have done it and done it very well. I recall doing it back in the day when I was a local authority leader. Some have been less good about it. Of course, equal pay discrepancies can be brought into scope, but I remain to be convinced about handing it to another agency.

My Lords, when, at the current rate of progress, do His Majesty’s Government envisage that the ethnicity pay gap will be closed?

My noble friend might be interested to know that the ethnicity pay gap between white and ethnic minority employees in England and Wales is actually only 2.3%. It goes back to the point raised by the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, which is that it does not show the full picture. We have done a lot but there is further to go.

We always leave class out of this issue. I hate this idea of turning white against black by talking about doing something for black people when there are so many white people who are also left behind because of the nature of their class and where they come from.

My Lords, some of the recently arrived women care workers from Asian and African countries are being exploited by their employers because they have limited negotiating power. They are not fully aware of their rights, are less likely to join a union and are less assertive of their rights due to the fear of job insecurity and their immigration status. They are verging on modern slavery. Are the Government aware of their plight?

I think the Government are aware of the plight of anyone who might be in danger of slavery, exploitation and all the things the noble Lord talks about. I do not think that it is necessary to belong to a union to be protected from such exploitation.

I very much value what my noble friend said regarding the 2% ethnicity pay gap compared with white counterparts, but, once again, we must not treat all ethnic minority people as a homogenous group. That figure will be better for men, in terms of the differentials in pay gap, and worse for ethnic minority women. So, although I understand that there is variation and that there are lots of groups of ethnic minority women, nevertheless I think that there is merit in having a statutory requirement for businesses to say what those pay gaps are. That would be a start.

We do not intend to go down that route, for all the reasons I outlined earlier, but my noble friend is absolutely right that there is a big disparity within ethnic minority groups, with some people earning more than their ethnic white counterparts and others earning less. I think that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was trying to get at.