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Tue, 7 July 2020

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On the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, women across the UK face barriers at every stage of their lives

On the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, women across the UK face barriers at every stage of their lives

In recent months we have all seen that, for most of us, flexible working is possible, that working from home is possible, that sharing the load of care work is possible, says Baroness Berridge | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

We want everyone to have the opportunity and freedom to pursue their aspirations as we seek to level up all four corners of the UK

Today is the landmark 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act gaining royal assent in the UK. 
The Act was passed through parliament following the actions of a group of inspirational sewing machinists working at a car plant in Dagenham.

These women demanded equal employment rights after their jobs were downgraded, meaning they were paid less than their male counterparts.

Today is not only a chance to celebrate the perseverance and foresight of those women, but also a chance to reflect on the work that still needs to be done. Like the Dagenham workers in 1970, women across the UK face barriers at every stage of their lives today. These issues can come in many forms and can have an impact from school years right the way through to retirement.

Many of these barriers are raised in the workplace, where a need to balance work and care can mean women tend to be employed in sectors which offer more flexibility but often low pay. This issue has reared its head prominently in recent months, with 50% of women employed in the health, retail and education sectors which have been on the front line of the battle against the current Covid-19 crisis.  

And, even when women are working in traditionally high paying sectors, there is still the chance that the need to make a seemingly innocuous decision on something such as the provision of care for a family member can hold them back from the top jobs. Indeed, a recent report by the Law Society highlighted that very issue in my former profession, with women making up more than half of all practising solicitors but most of the leadership roles being held by men.

We know this pigeonholing of people isn’t right, and we want to see everyone having the opportunity and freedom to pursue their aspirations as we seek to level up all four corners of the UK.

In recent months we have all seen that, for most of us, flexible working is possible, that working from home is possible, that sharing the load of care work is possible. That’s why this government will continue to champion and introduce innovative measures which encourage employers to make a meaningful, lasting change that will see their workers benefit and in turn their revenue increase.

These changes are so easy to make, and it’s equally simple to see the impact they have. New research from the Government Equalities Office has found that simply prompting employers to consider whether jobs could be offered flexibly led to 20% more jobs being advertised with flexible working options. And, when job adverts offered flexible working, the study showed that they attracted up to 30% more applicants.

By considering what flexible working options they can offer – and advertising them when they’re recruiting, employers can make sure they’re attracting the best talent for their organisations.

Workplace culture also impacts what people say to each other. It is so ingrained into us not to discuss our pay. But by encouraging each other to talk about it, we can make sure we’re all getting a fair deal. Because just like the women of Dagenham, we need to pay the cost of living, our mortgages and our bills.

So, as we celebrate the success of those that took their struggle to the streets of Whitehall 50 years ago, I ask you to join me in taking forward their cause. Together, we can help build a more equal society which gives everyone the chance to succeed.

Baroness Berridge is a Conservative member of the House of Lords and minister for women. 

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