It was reported this week that the number of women in work had hit record levels – but that the gender pay gap had somehow expanded in the process. The Office of National Statistics figures showed that 14 million women are now in employment – an all-time record high and a huge achievement. It shows a significant narrowing of employment rates or men and women over the course of the last 40 years. The workforce is now 46% female and two thirds of women have jobs; the old fashioned model, whereby the man went out to work and the woman stayed at home, seems to be disappearing.
However, as many pointed out, the increasing parity between men and women’s employment levels does not seem to have been matched in pay. The figures suggest that the gender pay gap has actually increased in the last year – from £89 to £97 a week – showing how much work is still to be done. Diane Elson of the UK Women’s Budget Group said that “While it’s good to see women’s employment rate increasing, we have to look at the quality of employment”. Others pointed at the high numbers of women registering themselves as self-employed or working less skilled, part-time jobs.
We need to strive much, much harder to tackle the myriad structural factors which mean women continue to be badly paid, underemployed, and penalised by the “biological factors” so insightfully identified by Nigel Farage last month. These are things we must address pro-actively – not just accept as a fact of life.