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Earnings: Mothers and Fathers

Volume 836: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the research by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed showing that mothers in the United Kingdom earned £4.44 less an hour than fathers in 2023.

My Lords, data on the gender pay gap is collected by the Office for National Statistics and published annually, with the latest results published in November 2023. These showed that the pay gap between men and women in full-time work aged 30 to 39, which is the average age of parents when they first have children, was 4.7% in 2023, down from 11% in 1997. The publication does not include information on pay gaps between mothers and fathers, and this information is not included in any routine publication of the ONS. The results of the analysis and the data and methods that were used by the group Pregnant Then Screwed have not been published; the Government are therefore unable to assess their basis.

My Lords, my Question is about the motherhood penalty, which is also a major cause of child poverty. The 2016 survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that 77% of working mothers experienced discrimination during pregnancy and maternity leave and on return from maternity leave. The Minister said that the Government do not have any information. Why not? Why do the Government not collect any data about pregnancy and maternity discrimination suffered by women? In the absence of that information, how can they eradicate that discrimination?

I think the noble Lord might want to look again at what I said. I absolutely did not say that the Government do not gather any information on discrimination. Our domestic law on maternity discrimination is absolutely clear: discriminating against women in the workplace because they are pregnant or new mothers is unlawful.

To paraphrase Christine Lagarde from the European Central Bank, if Lehman Brothers had been “Lehman Sisters”, we may have avoided a global financial crisis. We need more female representation on boards of companies and we need more female CEOs. Can the Minister say what focus the Government are placing on a voluntary, business-led approach to setting targets that will see more women in leadership roles?

I thank my noble friend for his question. We can all imagine how successful “Lehman Sisters” would still be. The Government have long supported an independent, business-led, voluntary approach to increasing the participation of women in senior roles, both in relation to start-ups, with the Rose review, and, most recently, with the FTSE Women Leaders Review, which has set new voluntary targets for the FTSE 350 for both board and leadership representation.

My Lords, there is general agreement that key to reducing the pay gap between mothers and fathers is more fathers taking parental leave. The Government’s shared parental leave scheme has been an abysmal failure. What are the Government going to do about it?

I do not accept that it has been an abysmal failure. I appreciate that the numbers are still modest, but they are definitely going in the right direction, with 13,000 couples taking shared parental leave in 2021-22, up from 6,200 in 2015-16. Clearly, this is part of a broader cultural shift. The noble Baroness may wish the Government to enforce everything, but this Government do not wish to.

My Lords, 90% of single parents are women, and 49% of these families are in poverty. Universal credit discriminates against single parents by requiring those with children over three to work a 30-hour week, regardless of their circumstances. What steps will the Government take to end discrimination suffered by single-parent families under universal credit so that their children are not forced into acute poverty and deprivation through unfairness and discrimination?

The Government have made tremendous strides, particularly in relation to the national living wage and the increases that we have seen in that in real terms since the Government came to power in 2010.

My Lords, the Minister and I both know what the law says about pregnancy and maternity, but the facts are that 54,000 women a year lose their job because they are pregnant and another 390,000 working mums are discriminated against or experience negative treatment, and these numbers have doubled in the last decade. On these Benches, we have a plan to deal with unfair dismissal, denial of flexible working requests and a failing parental leave system; “modest” is a very kind way of describing the Government’s parental leave system. Do the Government have a plan, and in what timeframe?

I have touched already on issues of maternity and pregnancy discrimination. The Government have already extended legal protections on redundancy and the DBT’s Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Advisory Board is ensuring that all our guidance is clear and fit for purpose.

My Lords, to pick up the previous question, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of maternity. The Body Shop sacked 750 workers without any notice or redundancy package, and the company admits it broke the law. The sacked workers include 15 women on maternity leave, who will now receive only government maternity pay and not full redundancy packages, which they should really be entitled to. What assessment, therefore, have the Government made that will make sure that this flouting of employment law does not continue?

Clearly, such cases are extremely regrettable. I can only repeat what I have already said: the law is absolutely clear on this, as are the routes to redress.

My Lords, surely the law is flawed, because it leaves it to individual women to enforce the law themselves. We do not do this for school standards, food standards, environmental standards, and so on. It is asking too much, surely, to expect an individual woman to find out what her colleagues are being paid and then sue her employer. Surely there is a role for the state in investigating and enforcing equality law.

This is the third time in fairly short order that the noble Baroness and I have touched on this important subject. As she knows— I know she believes this is not sufficient, but to be clear—the law already protects people who want to have these crucial conversations about pay with their colleagues. We are seeing that people are increasingly open in discussing their salaries, and the Government welcome this shift. There were, of course, a number of cases: over 2,500 equal pay claims were entered into the employment tribunal system between July and September last year, and each one of those is an important reminder to employers of their legal obligations.

My Lords, the same report from Pregnant Then Screwed also found that a significant proportion of new fathers and secondary parents simply cannot afford to take their full paternity leave because of the low level of statutory paternity pay. Most other European countries have far more generous paternity leave entitlements than the UK’s, in both length and pay, which bring benefits for family bonds and support gender equality. Will the Government commit to increasing the statutory leave entitlement so that families in the UK can also reap these benefits?

I say two things to the right reverend Prelate. First, statutory leave and pay is only part of the state support available to new families in the first year of their child’s life. The Government also have provisions in place such as tax credits, child benefit and universal credit. We continue to believe that arrangements for paternity leave and pay are best left to employers. I appreciate that this is somewhat old research, from 2016, but it found that fathers who work full-time experience a wage bonus, earning 22% more than similar men without children who are working full-time.

My Lords, it is commendable that the Government have done something to improve pension outcomes for women, who are particularly disadvantaged given that they automatically have lower lifetime earnings, due to caring roles, but is there anything further that the Government might be able to do? Perhaps there could be some kind of review of the overall lifetime earnings patterns of women who have to care both for children and older relatives in other stages of their life so that the disadvantage might be remedied in some way, either by contributions from a partner, which are currently not encouraged, or by some other mechanism.

I very much welcome my noble friend’s suggestion in this regard, and I share her belief that greater transparency and more data to help understand the issues are really helpful. I will take her suggestions back to the department.