Rosie the Riveter. Photo: Wikipedia
Show Hide image

More female plumbers, but they suffer worst pay gap

Female tradespeople lose out.

A survey published last week charting the rise in the number of female tradespeople was celebrated as a triumph for gender equality. Sadly the cheers may have been raised too soon, a new study shows.

According to new research conducted by Labour into gender pay gaps across sectors, which the Staggers can reveal exclusively, skilled trades are the worst industries for pay differences between men and women.

Female plumbers, electricians and carpenters earn on average a shocking 30 per cent less than their male colleagues.  Manufacturing and processing operatives rank second worst, with an average 22 per cent pay gap.

The statistics come as a blow, after a 10,000-person survey by IronmongeryDirect published last week revealed that almost 6 per cent of tradespeople were now women. 

Puns about the rise of "white van woman" aside, the growth in the number of female plasterers, builders and other skilled trades roles was seen as a boon for gender equality.

One positive finding in Labour's research, which otherwise depicted a bleak landscape for equal pay, was around part-time work. It found that the gender pay gap for those in part-time work saw women come out on top in almost every sector. 

Depressingly, the one area in which women still lag behind men in part-time work, however, is in the highest paid jobs. Female managers, directors and senior officials earn almost 15 per cent less than their male equivalents.

It is a dispiriting statistic, particularly since women who choose to work part-time in these occupations often do so to balance family commitments, including caring for elderly relatives and child care. It is perhaps indicative of why so many high-flying women say their careers never recover after they have children.

It is also worth pointing out that industries in which the pay gap is smaller between the sexes are also the industries in which women dominate the work force and pay is lower than the national average. 

Women working as nursing assistants and beauticians, for example, face a smaller pay gap at 6.5 per cent, but women comprise 82 per cent of the workforce, and the salary is more than 35 per cent lower the national average.

Labour's shadow minister for women and equalities Gloria de Piero told me last week of a women she had just met who had won a employment tribunal after suffering unequal pay. The woman had juggled credit card debt, baliff letters, sleepless nights and all because she had been ripped off with a lower wage because of her sex.

It hammers home the unfairness of unequal pay, which about simple justice, rather than men versus women. De Piero promised that a Labour government would make pay equality a priority.

She added: "Forty four years since Labour's Barbara Castle passed the Equal Pay Act and we're still talking about how we get equal pay. At whatever level, whether we work part time or full time, whether it's male dominated or a sector where women make up most of the workforce - women lose out. And it's getting worse under this Government. Progress on closing the gap has stalled under the Tories and Lib Dems meaning women are missing out on £170 extra a year."

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Philip Hammond's house gaffe is a reminder of what the Tories lost when David Cameron left

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's blunder confirmed an old fear about the Conservative Party. 

Philip Hammond got into a spot of bother this morning describing the need for a transitional agreement with the European Union by comparing it to moving into a house, saying: "you don't necessarily move all your furniture in on the first day you buy it”.

This immediately surprised a lot of people, because for most people, you do, in fact, move all of your furniture in on the first day you buy a house. Or rent a house, or a flat, or whatever. Most people who buy houses are part of housing chains – that is, they sell their house to raise some of the capital to buy another one, or, if they are first-time buyers, they are moving from the private rented sector into a house or flat of their own.

They don’t, as a rule, have a spare bolthole for “all their furniture” to wait around in. Hammond’s analogy accidentally revealed two things – he is rich, and he owns more than one home. (I say “revealed”. Obviously these are things you can find out by checking the register of members’ interests, but they are, at least, things that are not immediately obvious hearing Hammond speak.)

That spoke to one major and recurring Conservative weakness: that people see them as a party solely for the rich. Focus groups conducted by BritainThinks consistently showed that when people were asked which group of TV families might vote Conservative, the only one that people consistently picked were the “posh couple” from GoggleBox.

David Cameron’s great achievement as Conservative leader was in winning two elections – the first, in 2010, the most successful night for the Conservatives since 1931, with 97 gains overall, the second, their first parliamentary majority for 23 years – despite being a graduate of Eton and Oxford leading a party that most voters fear will only look out for the rich.

He did it by consistently speaking and acting as if he were significantly less well-to-do than he was. Even his supposed 2013 gaffe when asked what the price of bread was – when he revealed that he preferred to use a breadmaker – projected a more down-to-earth image than his background suggested His preferred breadmaker cost a hundred quid and could easily have been found in any upper-middle class home in any part of his country. One of Cameron’s great successes was in presenting himself as an affable upper-middle-class dad to the nation, when he was in fact, well-to-do enough to employ a literal breadmaker had he so chosen.

This is slightly unfair on Philip Hammond who went to a state school in Essex and is by any measure less posh than Cameron. But his gaffe speaks to their big post Cameron problem (and indeed their big pre-Cameron problem) which is that while many conservative ideas are popular, the Conservative Party isn’t. Most of their big politicians are a turn-off, not a turn-on.

And until they can find a genuine replacement for David Cameron, miserable results like 2017 may become the norm, rather than the exception. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

0800 7318496