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12 June 2012updated 02 Sep 2021 4:51pm

On Equal Pay Day, let’s rethink how we value carers in society

Those we trust to look after the most precious people in our lives are also the lowest paid. 

By Sarah Champion

The Equal Pay Act was introduced 46 years ago. And yet from today, the UK’s female workforce will effectively be working for free until 31 December.

Despite a painstakingly slow narrowing of the gender pay gap over the last year, today’s Equal Pay Day falls only one day later than last year’s. At the current rate, women could be waiting over 50 years to have parity in their pay with men.

This year Labour and the Fawcett Society are taking the opportunity on Equal Pay Day to show the gratitude we hold for the contribution of women to our economy and our society. Women are sharing pictures of themselves in the workplace under the hashtag #EqualValue.

And we have a lot to celebrate. The women of this country keep the UK running.

They are our teachers, care givers, doctors, business leaders, sale assistants and cleaners. Our economy and communities would simply grind to a halt without them.

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Today is an opportunity to recognise the vital work that women do, whether paid or unpaid, part time or full time, whether as a CEO of a tech company or the cleaners and kitchen staff who keep our work places efficient. 

Too often the work undertaken by women is low paid, undervalued, with limited progression and training opportunities. Several key sectors with a predominantly female work force continue to be subject to chronic low pay and poor working conditions.

And it should shame us that those we trust to look after the most precious and vulnerable people in our lives – our young, elderly and disabled family members – are some of the lowest paid and poorly valued members of society.

The issue of the lack of value we place on the work women do was raised during the Women and Equalities Select Committee Inquiry into the gender pay gap earlier this year.

According to Professor Rubery and Anna Ritchie Allan from Close the Gap:

“When we look at the types of work that are female dominated, low paid and undervalued, they are centred on work that has been done traditionally by women in the home. It is because those skills are undervalued—caring, cooking, cleaning and clerical work—because they are done by women that they result in low pay.”

The contribution of women to our economy is underestimated and undervalued in a number of key ways that we must reflect on today:

  1. Women are more likely to earn less for doing the same job.
  2. Women are concentrated in low pay, low progression sectors of the economy.
  3. The unpaid care work, predominately undertaken by women, is not counted as a contribution to the economy.
  4. Part time jobs pay less per hour than full time jobs per hour.

Delivering economic justice and equality for women in our country will need to involve a strategy for tackling all of these factors and most importantly, a shift in terms of the kind of work and activities we value as a society.

Focusing on part time pay, with 41 per cent of female employees working part-time compared to 12 per cent of male employees, creating parity in pay per hour for part time and full time workers would improve the situation for thousands of women and their families.

Labour has a lot to be proud of when it comes to securing economic equality for women. Everything from the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equality Act to the creation of Sure Start centres and the introduction of the minimum wage.

Almost every major piece of legislation that has improved the lives of working women has been introduced by a Labour Government.

But there is so much further for us to go.

It is up to Labour to push for true economic equality for men and women once and for all and to insist that we properly capture and value the contribution all women make to our economy and society.

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