A week and a day

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Carole3Am I alone in having failed to mark International Teddy Bear Day last week?

Every day is the day of something or other, designed to promote a particular campaign or cause. Some, like next month’s World AIDS Day, have become well-known fixtures in the calendar and can claim to have raised awareness and even to have changed public attitudes. Sometimes one day is not thought to be enough and we have a whole week.  

This week is Living Wage Week, which kicked off with the announcement of the latest UK Living Wage – at £7.85 (£9.15 in London), 21% higher than the National Minimum Wage.

We know that young women are particularly affected by low pay. Among those who have only had minimum wage jobs in the last ten years, almost four in five are women. And one in five of those surveyed for our Scarred for Life? inquiry had been offered a job that paid less than the minimum wage.

Yesterday was Equal Pay Day – the day on which women, because they are paid so much less than men, effectively start working for free until the end of the year.

It is a matter of national shame that the UK  has fallen out of the top 20 countries globally for gender equality. And why did the UK drop from 18th to 26th in the World Economic Forum’s rankings? Because the gender pay gap has widened for the first time since 1997. Yes, things could only get better… until they stayed the same, and then got worse.

It is this widening of the gender pay gap that saw Equal Pay Day come three days earlier this year.

While it was good to hear Women & Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan and her Shadow, Gloria De Piero, both talking in the media about the gender gap - Labour wants to force companies to publish their pay gap and the Government highlights something called ‘Think, Act, Report’, which helps companies think about gender equality – the issues require more action and more commitment.    

All of this is hugely disheartening for young women. It is so tough for them to get any job, let alone a good one that pays well and offers career progression.

This week is also Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, trying to encourage more young people to help fill the skills gap facing the UK – according to the Institution of Engineering we need to recruit 87,000 engineers every year for the next decade.

There is a recognition that to achieve this target engineering needs to attract more women. In this case the key issue isn’t the fact that men currently earn more than women but the fact that engineering is almost exclusively male. The fact that women currently make up just 6% of British engineers underlines an important point.

Important though it is to ensure that men and women doing the same jobs get the same pay, the gender pay gap exists because too many women currently end up in poorly paid jobs in a limited range of occupations and too few enjoy the better pay and prospects offered by professions such as engineering.