We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Paying for what we value

May 26, 2020 12:52 PM

Equal Pay ActFriday 29 May is the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Equal Pay Act. The world has changed a lot in the ensuing 50 years, and although there is much more to achieve, the gender pay gap has narrowed considerably over that period. But the world has changed in a quite different way in the last 50 days, and it is increasingly evident that it will never be the same again. The impact on the economy will be huge and it is already being recognised that women will be disproportionately adversely affected in the job market, as many people lose their jobs and will need to seek fresh employment in a highly competitive job market.

There is a serious risk that women's pay will be driven down and the gender pay gap will grow again. The old adage "beggars can't be choosers" sadly comes to mind. We must surely guard against such an outcome.

Women, in those sectors where the proportion of women workers far outstrips men, such as the care sector, are already forced to accept poor pay, in the absence of a viable alternative. Eight out of ten care workers are women, many of whom are paid at just minimum wage levels. Work done by women is still consistently undervalued.

New survey data published this week by The Fawcett Society, the gender equality campaigning charity, shows that the public overwhelmingly want carers to be better paid and better valued. There should be all party support for appropriate legislation in this regard.

A significant 72% of those polled agreed that care workers are underpaid for the work they do. Many low-paid care workers are no doubt among the 1.2 million women who are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay due to their earnings. When care workers are often putting their own health (and sometimes their lives) at risk, this is surely wrong. The public certainly think so. 77% of those polled thought that every worker should be able to access sick pay during the pandemic.

Crucially, 65% supported an increase in income tax to fund giving care workers a pay rise. Only 11% disagreed. An even greater proportion of the public, 74%, want to see care for the elderly and disabled protected from any funding cuts.

The work of women in all sectors is of equal value to that of their male counterparts. In re-evaluating what matters in our society, we must never forget this. If the "new normal" genuinely includes equal pay for equal work, and decent working conditions for all, we will have made a significant change for the better.

Rachel Dineley

Diversity Officer

Chiltern Liberal Democrats