Today, I am bringing a ten minute rule bill on equal pay to parliament. The bill asks for implementation of Section 78 of the 2010 Equalities Act, which would place a duty on companies with over 250 employees to publish their figures on the pay gap between the men and women working for them.
It has been almost 50 years since the women of T&G Ford Dagenham went on strike for equal pay and almost 45 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced. It should be the case that for many years women have received the same pay as men but, sadly and quite shockingly, it is not.
Today’s motion to parliament would rectify a section of the Equalities Act that has so far been inactive. Section 78 requires large companies to publish figures on the gender pay gap, but it is currently enforced solely through a voluntary mechanism. Since the implementation of the act, only five companies have opted in to this voluntary arrangement. Five. That is not even 0.1 per cent of the total number of large businesses in the United Kingdom.
By now, equal pay should be standard for women everywhere, rather than a campaign that we are still fighting. Companies across the UK, as well as many successive governments, have pledged to deliver on giving women equal pay. We do the same work, so it goes without saying that we should get the same pay.
Women in Britain still earn on average only 81p for every pound earned by men. That is over £200,000 we have lost in a lifetime. You could buy a house for that.
It is not just women that we are short-changing: it is families too. Why should children be worse off because their mum gets less pay than their dad? Why should a family be deprived of the extra clothes, shoes, meals or even holidays that a lifetime’s worth of being underpaid brings?
The last Labour government did close the pay gap by a third, but progress is too slow. We have already waited a generation, and we should not have to wait another. This is why today’s motion calling for large companies to publish their figures on the pay gap is so important. It is time we took action. It is time we named and shamed. Equal pay will not happen on its own: almost 50 years of waiting since the women of Ford Dagenham marched for women’s pay shows that.
Asking companies to publish their figures on the pay gap is not just about jumpstarting them into action, it is about giving women the evidence they need to challenge decisions on pay. Women should feel empowered to speak out and challenge where necessary, but we cannot do that without the facts being made available to us.
This is about giving women equal pay compared to those in the same job as them, but it is also about giving women equal pay regardless of their situation. Women should not be penalised for wanting to work part-time. They should not be penalised for having just returned from a year of maternity leave. They should not be penalised for having family commitments. They should not be penalised as a consequence of their gender in any way.
The workplace is changing, but it is not changing quickly enough. Women should feel empowered to achieve the things they aspire to, but the first step in empowering women is giving them the pay they deserve, and are entitled to.
Sarah Champion is member of parliament for Rotherham. She tweets @SarahChampionMP
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