I wrote this for the i and it can be found here.
This week, in the UK, women will earn £2.5 billion (£2,647,736,923) in total less than men. That’s £176.50 for each woman in work.
This week, in the UK, we celebrate a hundred years since the first women got the vote. That’s one hundred years of women having voting power but continuing to lack spending power. Waiting another hundred years for pay equality is not an option. It’s time to be impatient.
Young women in particular are on low pay and in insecure work – and are suffering the results. Every day at Young Women’s Trust we are working with these young women to build their confidence, support them into work and fight for equality.
We’ve been working with Cassie, 27, who had her working tax credit cut because she got a new job in a school. With a few extra hours under her belt each week and a hundred pounds more a month in wages, she lost her tax credits. Now, she is struggling to cover the basics for her and her child: rent, childcare, dinner money, travel, food.
Cydney, 23, was spending around 80 per cent of her wages on childcare. This meant she was sometimes left with just £5 at the end of the week to buy food. She was skipping meals to ensure her son still ate.
Nothando, 25, was working on a temporary zero-hours contract. She worried every day about whether her job would be there the next day. If she was sick, she wouldn’t get paid. If she was on annual leave, she wouldn’t get paid. If she had a doctor’s appointment, she wouldn’t get paid. She told us she felt like she was compromising her health and social life in order to have money coming in, all the while knowing that she could easily lose her job. Eventually her employer ended her contract with a week’s notice and a week’s pay.
The reality is that, despite having the vote, many young women still feel powerless and disenfranchised. Women are still illegally paid less for the same roles, still struggle to reach the highest paid positions and are still shut out from some of the best-paid sectors. As a result, the full-time gender pay gap is a stubborn 14 per cent. For women of colour and disabled women, it’s even wider. And, as we are seeing at Young Women’s Trust, many of the women affected by unequal pay are those in insecure work, who can find it harder to speak out for fear of losing their job.
At the current rate of progress, it will take another 45 years to close the gap. By then, Cassie, Cydney and Nothando will have retired.
This is not good enough. We need urgent action from the Government and employers to ensure today’s young women get equal spending power.
Identifying and reporting a gender pay gap, as companies will be required to do for the first time this year, is not enough. Organisations that pay women less than men should be required to put in place plans to close their gaps.
Employers need to support more women into senior roles and into the better-paid, male-dominated sectors like engineering and construction. They must also end the persistent low pay in women-dominated sectors like care and retail and end exploitative zero-hours contracts.
Enabling families to share childcare more equally and supporting women who have had children back into work would also help to close the pay gap.
Of course we should celebrate the fact that young women now have voting power. But it’s about time all young women got spending power too. We’ve already waited a hundred years. We won’t wait any longer.