Unequal pay, unequal chances

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Today it was reported that Birmingham Council faces bills of £1billion for equal pay claims because thousands of women working for the local authority were paid less than men for work of equal value for many years. Sadly, the media debate has focused on whether the council will need to sell off land and property to foot the bill. The fact that so many women – working in essential roles such as home care workers or school cooks – were paid less than their male counterparts has received shockingly little attention.

Why does this matter? Aside from the fact that unequal pay is unfair, it also consigns many women to low or precarious pay, often for the rest of their lives. Double the number of women work in low paid jobs compared to men: 2 million women compared to 1 million men.

Small wonder, then, that over of a third of the young women we polled last year said they did not believe there will ever be equal pay for women. Traditionally ‘female’ roles such as customer service, caring and catering remain stubbornly underpaid compared to similar ‘male’ roles. This pattern is mirrored in apprenticeships, with over a third of young women in our poll believing that well paid apprenticeships in engineering and building trades are only for boys.

And, while the Birmingham Council story is shocking, we shouldn’t assume that it wouldn’t happen today. Despite legislation and numerous investigations, commissions, and pledges, women are still being paid less than men for work of the same value. 

Young Women’s Trust wants to change the story of young women. While the popular myth is that when it comes to education and careers, young women have never had it so good, our report The Real Story showed how this story hides some uncomfortable truths.

We need a frank debate about how we value work in this country. Otherwise many young women will remain trapped in poverty, on low, precarious or no pay. This year, Young Women’s Trust will work with young women to demonstrate the reality of their lives and campaign for changes to tackle the poverty and discrimination many of them face.