The 1970 Equal Pay Act is framed as the success story of the 20th century, but this is simply not the case.
The reality for women in the workplace is worryingly disparate to the notion that men and women have been treated equally since: despite more women in the workforce than ever before, the UK this year has dropped out of the top 20 countries in terms of gender-equality, ranked by the World Economic Forum.
The rankings are determined by several different factors that contribute to equality amongst genders but the particular reason for the exclusion from the top 20 is the UK’s low score in “economic participation”.
The Fawcett Society, the UK’s largest independent membership organisation, marked the 4th November as Equal Pay Day and currently, women are earning on average 15.7% per cent less than their male counterparts.
The figures imply that from the 4th of November until the end of the year, women are effectively working for free. So for every year a man works, a woman has to approximately work an extra 60 days for the same pay.
Critics have suggested that these figures are to some degree distorted. For example the career path women typically lead and the inevitably of a large percentage of women having to take career breaks for childbirth is likely to have an effect. A response to this is that the country should have more of an accommodating view towards parenting. This would entail policies aiming at alleviating pressures of working parents- such as an expansion of the UK’s free childcare policy.
It's also important to note that women dominate the part-time work proportion of the labour force. In this demographic, women are being paid an astonishing 34 per cent less than men. Their Equal Pay Day would fall on the 28th August. A woman working part-time would have to work an extra quarter of a year to earn the same as she would were she a man.
In the years when the UK was in the top 20 countries for gender equality, for which Blair’s New Labour presided, the gender pay gap was decreasing at a rate of 0.5 per cent per year- right up until 2010. Since then it has plateau and last year it had in fact risen.
At 15.7 per cent and at the current rate of progress, Labour’s research suggest that men and women will finally be paid equally just 6 years short of the Equal Pay Act’s century mark.