Gender pay gap for UK women aged 40 and over ‘will not close till they are pensioners’

<span>Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

UK women aged 40 and older will not experience the closure of the gender pay gap until after they reach state pension age, according to a report by the Fawcett Society.

The Equal Pay Day 2023 report, “Making flexible working the default”, found that on average working women take home £574 a month less than men – or £6,888 a year.

Blaming a lack of flexible working in well-paid, high-quality jobs, the report found that women were forced to put up with less fair and less equal working arrangements in exchange for the flexibility required to balance their caring responsibilities.

“Flexibility supports women’s career progression, grows the talent pool for employers and breaks the link between women and less-desirable flexible work,” said Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society. “Flexibility in high-quality, high-paid jobs must be normalised for all employees.”

Progress to close the gender pay gap is “glacial”, Fawcett’s research has found, before this year’s Equal Pay Day on 22 November: the date when women overall in the UK stop being paid compared with men.

To mark EPD, the Fawcett Society has released a report showing that at the current rate of change, the pay gap between men and women will not close until 2051, 28 years from now. It said that making flexible work the default was essential if the gender pay gap was to close more quickly.

Its report, based on a Survation survey of 2,844 adults across the UK, reveals that:

  • Forty per cent of unemployed women said access to flexible work would enable them to take on paid work. Almost a third of unemployed men said the same.

  • Women were significantly more likely to report working part-time (27%) compared with men (14%).

  • About 77% of women agreed that they would be more likely to apply for a job that advertised flexible working options.

Fawcett is also calling for a mandatory ethnicity pay gap report. The most recent ONS data on the ethnicity pay gap from 2020 shows that Black African women earn 26% less than men, Bangladeshi women 28% and Pakistani women 31%.

“Making flexibility the norm will normalise men taking on their fair share of caring responsibilities,” the report states, with 30% of both men and women having turned down jobs because their potential employer was unable to offer flexible work.

But while there is a legal right to request flexible working once employed, Alice Arkwright, policy adviser at the TUC, would like employers to have a duty to put flexible working options in job adverts: less than a third of job adverts offer flexible working, even though eight in 10 people say they want it.

“It’s to everyone’s benefit,” she said. “It’s going to cause employers difficulties if someone they’ve just employed has their request rejected and they then either have to drop their hours or leave the job.”

Arkwright also said that employers should think “really broadly” about what flexible working means. “We would include having a set shift pattern as a form of flexibility,” she said. “In retail, transport, NHS and healthcare, having a fixed shift pattern as opposed to a rolling shift pattern is a really important form of flexibility – especially for women who have childcare responsibilities.”

The report found that 70% of women and 60% of men would be more likely to vote for a party that required employers to include all possible flexible working options in job adverts, with 84% of women in “red wall” constituencies saying that action on the gender pay gap was important to them when deciding which party to vote for.

Caroline Nokes, the chair of the government’s women and equalities committee, said the report’s findings were sobering and blamed “a lack of evolution in workplace practices”.

She said: “Employers need to wake up to the fact that working flexibly has a transformative effect, not just for women who may have caring responsibilities, but in contributing to a modern, thriving economy.”

Priya Sahni-Nicholas, co-executive director of the Equality Trust, said the government needed to “prioritise tackling the systems and structures within our economy that perpetuate pay gaps – such as fixing our broken childcare system, reform of parental leave entitlement and a work culture built around flexibility – alongside mandatory action plans to close the persistent pay gaps we see across gender, ethnicity and disability”.