The Guardian view on equal pay: it’s time it happened

More than four decades after a law was passed to ensure men and women were paid the same, large differences persist. To end this gender wage gap will need more government action

The danger of using milestones as a metaphor is that we may imagine we are on a steady journey. Progress is rarely so predictable. It can take much longer than one might imagine to get from one marker to the next. More than four decades after the Equal Pay Act came into force, women are still earning 18.1% less than men across full- and part-time work. The gap between full-time employees is 9.4%. On current trends it will take another 24 years to close the gap, according to PwC; others believe it will take much longer. Analysis has suggested that if every other relevant factor is controlled for – from race to hours worked to seniority – women earn 5.07% less than men for like-for-like work. Part of the decrease in recent years is, depressingly, down to more young men moving into low-paid work. Economics make up one part of the picture for women. Political power constitutes another. In 1975, when the act came into force, Margaret Thatcher became the first female leader of a major British party. Now the UK has its second female prime minister and many more women in senior positions across major institutions; one could soon be running the Metropolitan police. Several run or lead local authorities. Yet this week’s “northern powerhouse” conference includes only 13 women among the 98 speakers, and organisers did not bother to include any of them in the press release listing 15 influential speakers – despite the region’s many influential women.

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