“Scandalous” new government data reveals the extent of the gender pay gap among top and average earners.
The fight for equal pay has been an essential part of the feminist movement for generations – but we’re not there yet. According to new government figures, there are almost four times as many top-paid men in Britain than women, and there is also a significant gap between the median earnings of ‘ordinary’ men and women.
The data, released by HMRC, looks at the earnings of British taxpayers in the year 2015-16. It showed that 681,000 men earned £100,000 or more in that time period, compared to just 179,000 women.
In addition, some 17,000 men earned £1m or more, while only 2,000 women earned the same – a discrepancy of almost 90%.
The data also highlighted a large gender gap between the average man and woman, not just amongst the country’s highest earners. Male taxpayers had a median annual income of £25,700, in comparison to female taxpayers’ median annual income of £20,300. These figures don’t include those who don’t earn enough to pay income tax, and so don’t account for the higher proportion of women in part-time and low-paid work.
Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said that the data showed that “gender inequality is a feature, not a coincidence or side-effect, of our economic, political and social system”.
“These figures show inequality runs through every level of the economy,” she told The Observer. “It is scandalous that women still make up barely a fifth of top earners, and this discrepancy is not confined to those in well-paid jobs.”
Justine Greening, the Conservative MP for Putney and the minister for women and equalities from July 2016 to January 2018, told the newspaper she was shocked at what the data revealed.
“These stark figures show how far our country still has to go on closing our gender pay gap,” she said. “It represents not only a loss of career earnings for women, it also represents a loss of talent for employers.”
Greening highlighted three steps that could be taken to help close the gender pay gap: improving flexible working, helping women return to the workplace after becoming mothers, and encouraging girls and young women to enter well-paid professions that have traditionally been dominated by men.
Under a new initiative designed to start tackling pay inequality, the biggest companies in Great Britain must report their gender pay gap to the government by 4 April this year. Companies with more than 250 employees must also publish details of the proportion of male and female employees who receive bonuses, and reveal the number of men and women in different pay quartiles.
However, with less than a month to go until the deadline, more than four out of five employers had failed to report their gender pay gap data. Just 1,620 (around 17%) had published their gender pay gap information by 7 March, with an estimated two-thirds of FTSE 100 companies yet to file their figures.
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Peter Cheese, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), has warned that some companies may be waiting until the last minute to file their pay gap data in the hope that doing so will help them avoid public scrutiny.
“They’re thinking, ‘maybe I should hold off and when there’s the big tsunami of companies reporting I’ll bury it into that’,” he told the Financial Times.
Treasury select committee chair Nicky Morgan has also raised concerns that some major accounting and law firms are exploiting a loophole in order to present their gender pay gap as smaller than it actually is.
In a statement, Morgan said that some companies have classed their top-earning partners as ‘owners’ rather than ‘employees’ – allowing them to be excluded from the figures.
“These firms appear to be abiding by the letter of the law, but not the spirit,” she told The Independent. “They’re taking advantage of an apparent loophole. Partners are leaders and role models in their firms. They should know better than to exclude themselves.”
One thing is certain: come April, we’ll have a much better idea of just how significant the gender pay gap is in Great Britain. What’s much less clear is what the government will do next to address the problem.
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