It's Equal Pay Day, again.

The nights are drawing in, the sound of fireworks is (thankfully) fading, and the heating has been cranked up. Yes, it’s that time of year again: it’s Equal Pay Day.

Equal Pay Day is the day from which women are effectively working for free for the rest of the year because of the gender pay gap. In 2018, UK Equal Pay Day falls on Saturday 10th November. It’s an ideal time to take stock of the progress, or lack thereof, made over the past year for women and work.

Two weeks ago, new data from the UK Office for National Statistics revealed that Scotland’s gender pay gap had narrowed ever so slightly from 15% to 14%. However, this should not be cause for celebration or complacency. Progress on closing the pay gap has stagnated, with the figure hovering around the 14-15% mark for many years, and the picture of women’s labour market inequality remains a concerning one.

In April this year we saw the first round of reporting under the (then new) UK Gender Pay Gap Information Regulations, which revealed some extraordinarily high gender pay gaps and bonus gaps, and stark occupational segregation across the UK. The regulations themselves were presented as the solution to the gender pay gap under which employers would, motivated by the inequalities highlighted, take concrete steps to close the gap. This has unfortunately not been the case, with less than a third of employers publishing a narrative which explains the causes of their pay gap; less than a fifth of employers committing to take action to close the pay gap; and only 5% setting targets to reduce their pay gap. While the regulations provide welcome transparency around pay data, evidence shows that employers are unlikely to take action on the pay gap unless required to by law. There is therefore some way to go before the regulations drive meaningful change in employer behaviour.

Employer reporting reveals a key factor underlying the lack of action on the gender pay gap: there remains widespread confusion over what the gender pay gap really is. This is a problem we encounter on a regular basis. Most employer reports quickly point out the fact that just because they have a gender pay gap does not mean they have an equal pay issue; however the evidence shows that most employers have never done an equal pay review. This undue complacency represents a major barrier to action on equal pay and women’s inequality at work. Taking the steps necessary to realise equal pay is an important part of closing the pay gap, however employers’ narrow focus on the legal issue of equal pay will not in itself tackle the gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap goes far beyond the issue of equal pay for equal work. Models of the pay gap, including our own, consistently find that gender itself is the biggest driver. Gender stereotyping begins early, shaping the education and future employment paths of children and young people. Women’s under-representation at senior levels is a critical problem, but also important is women’s persistent concentration in the lower-paid jobs in all organisations. Close the Gap is about to publish research that shows that the right to request flexible working regulations have had no discernible impact on women’s access to flexible working. A lack of quality part-time and flexible working means that many women who require to work part-time to accommodate their caring roles become boxed in, unable to progress into overwhelmingly inflexible senior roles, and end up working below their skill level. This contributes to women’s higher levels of in-work poverty, and to child poverty.

The economic undervaluing of work seen as ‘women’s work’, in particular that of care workers, sees this work amongst the lowest paid in the UK labour market. This is compounded by the fact that our economy rests on the unpaid domestic labour of women, and yet this work is not counted or valued by systems of economic measurement. One study estimated the valued of unpaid care in Scotland at £10.8bn, which is more than the entire budget of NHS Scotland. Another national study put the value of unpaid work done by women in the UK at £1.24tn a year – that’s £19000 per person. The undervaluing of the work done by women, and the perennial problem of equal pay, was highlighted keenly by the recent Glasgow women’s strike.

We know the benefits of closing the gender pay gap would be wide-ranging. Women would benefit from more equal employment outcomes, employers would benefit from an increase in productivity and innovation, and the economy would benefit from the full utilisation of women’s skills, to the tune of £17bn in Scotland alone. In order to realise this, we need a national strategy on the gender pay gap which recognises and commits action on all of its causes. Close the Gap is advocating that Scottish Government takes a bold approach in developing its national gender pay gap action plan. We are also piloting the first employer accreditation scheme on advancing gender equality and preventing VAW, with our Equally Safe at Work project.

We hope that next Equal Pay Day we’ll be able to tell a more positive story but, for now, we’ll be continuing to work with employers, policymakers and unions to encourage and support action on women’s inequality at work.

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