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4 May 2021updated 04 Sep 2021 8:50am

Why the public sector pay freeze is particularly unfair for women

Chart of the Day: Real wages for women in the public sector have fallen by 0.3 per cent since 2011, while those for women in the private sector have risen.

By Ben van der Merwe

One of the arguments for the public sector pay freeze made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak is that workers have been unfairly shielded from lacklustre or negative wage growth in the private economy.

This might be true for men, but it’s not the case for women. Women employed in the public sector have seen their real wages fall by 0.3 per cent since 2011, while in the private sector women’s wages have grown by 5.6 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Women in the public sector have missed out on wage growth
Real growth in median hourly wages by sex and sector, 2011–2020
Source: Office for National Statistics

Sunak has also argued that public sector workers earn a “premium” over those in the private sector.

While it is true that public sector workers on average earn 9 per cent more than private sector workers, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that this is entirely explained by differences in employee attributes. Once the age, education and experience of employees is taken into account, the difference between public and private sector wages disappears.

[See also: Chart of the Day: How global military spending rose in 2020]

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By their very nature, public sector pay freezes tend to impact women more than men. This is because close to two-thirds of public sector workers are women (65 per cent), ONS figures show. While around 16 per cent of male workers are employed by the state, for women the figure is one in three (32 per cent).

The figures are particularly skewed for health and education, where 76 per cent and 73 per cent of employees are women, respectively. While NHS workers are excluded from the pay freeze, the rise of just 1 per cent is likely to amount to a real-terms pay cut for many.

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[See also: Chart of the Day: how the UK’s Covid-19 death rate has plummeted]