As gender inequality in the workplace makes a return to headlines with the very public resignation of the BBC’s China Editor, it has emerged that Theresa May’s own constituency has one of the UK’s largest pay gaps.
Women working in Britain now earn a mean average of 17.4 per cent less than their male counterparts, which, while still hugely unjust, is actually the narrowest the gap has been in 20 years. However the disparity is not uniform nationwide, instead being far worse for women from ethnic minorities, and also drastically differing across geographical locations.
One area where such inequality is particularly evident is the Prime Minister’s own constituency of Maidenhead, Berkshire, where women are paid an average of 37.3 per cent less than men. This figure, revealed today by the Office of National Statistics, puts Maidenhead third on the list of constituencies with the largest pay gaps – falling behind only Edinburgh South (38.1 per cent) and Cleethorpes (37.6 per cent).
The news may come as a particular surprise for many, since, back in July 2016, May used the first speech of her premiership to highlight the gender pay gap as a key issue for improvement.
Responding to the figures, Wigan MP and co-founder of think tank Centre for Towns, Lisa Nandy, said: “Theresa May began her premiership by committing to tackling the fundamental injustice of pay inequality. These figures suggest that she has so far failed to deliver on that pledge, and that it is women in towns like Maidenhead that are paying the price for the Prime Minister’s failure to act.”
With Northern Irish women facing a pay gap of just 7.1 per cent, compared to the 17.7 per cent gap experienced by those in England, Wales and Scotland, a comprehensive analysis of the data is being conducted by Centre for Towns in efforts to explain the regional differences.
An early suggestion is that the discrepancies could be attributed to the professions held in each area. Many of the constituencies with higher inequalities, such as South Edinburgh or the City of London, house male-dominated, highly paid industries, such as the financial sector; known to have the biggest pay gap of 31 per cent.
The theory is supported by a House of Commons briefing paper released last month, entitled The Gender Pay Gap, which suggests the reason for the far smaller pay gap found in Northern Ireland is “the higher proportion of public sector jobs than in the rest of the UK. There are more women employed in the public sector and these jobs tend to be higher paid, in general, than in the private sector”.
Nandy added: “While more analysis is needed to fully understand the disparity in pay between men and women in these areas, this data highlights a worrying trend of women in towns being disproportionately affected by the gender pay gap. We know that women make up a far higher proportion of the workforce in areas such as health and social care – particularly in towns and rural areas. Salaries in these type of jobs have been significantly impacted by stagnant wage growth, while many male-dominated industries like finance have continued to grow.
“If the prime minister is serious about tackling the gender pay gap she will have to go beyond gimmicks and undertake more rigorous analysis on the causes in towns – including her own.”
Whatever the final analysis establishes its cause to be, the disparity is likely to be met with outrage – particulatly in the wake of yesterday’s announcement that the BBC’s Carrie Gracie would be returning to the broadcaster’s UK newsroom after stepping down from her post in Beijing.
Writing to licence payers in an open letter posted on her blog, Gracie explained her decision: “In the past four years, the BBC has had four international editors – two men and two women. The Equality Act 2010 states that men and women doing equal work must receive equal pay. But last July I learned that in the previous financial year, the two men earned at least 50 per cent more than the two women.”
The BBC has come under fire for its gender inequalities in recent months, following the release of the salaries of their 96 best-paid stars – of which Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans was revealed to earn between £2.2m and £2.25m in 2016/2017 as their highest paid male employee, while his female equivalent Claudia Winkleman took home a far lower figure, somewhere between £450,000 and £500,000.