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Women and low pay

3 min read

Labour MP, Ruth Cadbury, says "more needs to be done to recognise the value in women’s work in addition to increasing pay."

Today, I have sponsored a debate ‘that this house has considered women and low pay’. When we talk about income equality, we often focus on the fair representation of women in FTSE100 boardrooms and in the business world more generally. The income disparity between men and women in the top 2% of earners is certainly worthy of our attention, it is simply not right that there is a 55% difference between men and women in the top earners category. However, there is no equality until there is equality for all workers on the pay scale. Think about the women across the country who wake up in the early hours of the morning, silently walk past the rooms of their sleeping children, hoping not to wake them on their way to go and clean our workplaces, before most of us have even had breakfast. These workers are low paid and often not on a living wage and it is these women I want to focus on today.

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Although we have seen growth in women’s employment, the TUC reported that over half of this growth was in low paying sectors. This comes as no surprise, women represent the majority of low paid workers, with three of five minimum wage jobs being occupied by women. This is largely due to occupational segregation. Linked to traditional gender roles, occupational segregation means that women are more likely to work in catering, caring and secretarial roles which are lower paid sectors compared to the far more lucrative sectors such as than engineering, technology and science. To demonstrate this point even further, women make up 78% of those working in health and social care, which has an average income £40 per week less than the UK economy average. More needs to be done to recognise the value in women’s work in addition to increasing pay and I am challenging the government to recognise that we need a strategy to boost the esteem of those jobs typically undertaken by women.

Overall, the picture is improving, under Labour the gender pay gap reduced by a third and this trend has continued under this government. But we must not be complacent, while we have seen a narrowing in the pay gap for full time workers, this trend has not replicated itself for part-time workers, in fact we have seen a widening in the gender pay gap for the self employed and the government must ensure it is doing all it can to support them.

Every major piece of legislation that has improved the lives of women has been introduced by the Labour party. From the Minimum Wage Act in 1998 to the Equality Act in 2010, Labour has always been at the forefront of the fight for equality. While the government certainly knows how to talk the talk on equality, with the Prime Minister pledging to end the gender pay gap ‘within a generation’, when 85% of government tax and benefit cuts hit women, they are giving with one hand and taking from them with the other. 

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