Exclusive:Gender pay gap: government drops commitment to wage transparency trial

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One union told NationalWorld it was ‘deeply disappointing’ while the Fawcett Society said it had asked minister Kemi Badenoch for a meeting

A government commitment to a pay transparency trial - where employers would have put salary details on job adverts to help close the gender pay gap - has been quietly dropped, NationalWorld can reveal.

The Prospect union - which had been lobbying for the scheme - told us it was “deeply disappointing news for women” while a gender equality charity said it was an “outrageous” decision and had asked Minister for Women Kemi Badenoch for a meeting to discuss the issue.

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The gender pay gap explained

The gender pay gap shows the difference in average earnings between men and women. Last year it stood at 14.9% in the UK. Analysis by NationalWorld in April found that more than three-quarters of employers in England, Scotland and Wales were paying men more - while trade union collective the TUC said the gap meant women effectively worked two months of the year for free.


What was the pay transparency trial?

In March last year, to coincide with International Women’s Day, the government announced it planned to set up a pilot scheme where employers would put wage details on all their job adverts and stop asking candidates how much they’d earned in the past.

At the time, ministers said: “Evidence shows listing a salary range on a job advert and not asking applicants to disclose salary history provides a firm footing for women to negotiate pay on a fairer basis. It is essential that we keep women at the forefront of the levelling up agenda as we recover from the pandemic and rebuild together”.

Since then, little has been heard about the scheme. The Prospect union - which represents 155,000 people from sectors including engineering and the civil service - asked for an update in the spring, concerned that no results had been published. One employment expert - Dr Duncan Brown - told NationalWorld he’d never seen a “clear brief” for the scheme.

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What’s happened now?

A fortnight ago, Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds wrote to the government, asking for a progress report on the pilot. This week, Equalities Minister Maria Caulfield replied - confirming that work on pay transparency would now be led by an independent “Inclusion at Work Panel”.

This panel, she said, would decide whether a pilot was the “best way” forward - ending the government’s formal commitment to starting one. Last night (7 June), Dodds said it showed the Equalities Office had “all but abandoned women after a pandemic which led to the biggest setbacks to gender equality in a generation”.

“This now looks like an empty promise”

Sue Ferns, Prospect’s Senior Deputy General Secretary, told NationalWorld the decision to mothball the pilot was “deeply disappointing news for women”.

“Listing salary ranges on job adverts and not requiring applicants to disclose their salary history has been shown to give women a fairer basis for negotiating their salaries”, she said.

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“When this pilot was launched, the government said it was ‘leading the way’. It’s a shame it was the way to nowhere”.

The gender pay gap remains at 14.9% The gender pay gap remains at 14.9%
The gender pay gap remains at 14.9%

The Fawcett Society - which campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights - said it was “outrageous” the government was being “so unclear on the future” of the scheme.

The charity’s chief executive Jemima Olchawski told NationalWorld: “We know that employers asking about salary history is a major driver of the gender pay gap. Fawcett research has shown that 61% of women who have been asked about salary history say it damaged their confidence to negotiate for better pay”.

“At the time of announcing the pilot, the government committed to developing and piloting a methodology that other firms could then adopt and would help ensure women were at the forefront of the levelling up agenda. This now looks like an empty promise. We have asked Kemi Badenoch for a meeting to discuss this point”.

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What are other countries doing?

Dr Duncan Brown - an associate at the Institute for Employment Studies - told NationalWorld the UK was now “lagging way behind” other major Western nations on this issue.He said many US states now have pay transparency requirements “such as New York which requires employers to publish pay rates on all job ads - and early research suggests that pay gaps have fallen in the states that first implemented them”.

Brown also pointed to measures recently passed in the EU forcing employers not only to reveal the pay range of any roles they recruit for, but giving employees the right to ask for information about average pay levels.

How has the government responded?

NationalWorld asked the government about the future of the pilot, and it pointed us to Maria Caulfield’s written statement to the Commons.

Caulfield said: “Work on pay transparency will now fall within the remit of the new, independent, Inclusion at Work Panel”.

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“It will be for the Inclusion at Work Panel to decide how best to take forward the work on pay transparency. This includes whether a pilot is the best way to progress this work and if so, what the timetable for this work would be”.

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