Women catch up as earnings gap narrows

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The Independent Online

The gap between the pay of the richest and poorest in society has narrowed, official figures showed yesterday.

The gap between the pay of the richest and poorest in society has narrowed, official figures showed yesterday.

The annual earnings survey also showed that the divide between men and woman and between regions had also shrunk. A key factor was the National Minimum Wage, which lifted another 280,000 people above the benchmark level of £3.60 an hour.

Campaigners against low pay said there was still a "huge" divide between the best and worst paid. They will continue to press for a significant rise in the minimum wage.

The Office for National Statistics said average gross weekly earnings of full-time workers stood at £411 in April this year, a 2.3 per cent rise on a year ago. The average annual salary was £21,842, up from £20,919. The earnings of the bottom 10 per cent of workers rose 4.2 per cent to £197.90 a week while the top tenth of earners saw their pay tick up 2.2 per cent to £662.20. Derek Bird, an ONS statistician said: "One can see that the disparity between the top and bottom earners narrowed slightly."

A similar picture emerged from an analysis of pay according to gender. While men still earned more than women, the gap narrowed further last year. Figures showed women now earn on average 81.6 per cent of the pay of their male counterparts. Men saw their pay rise 2.1 per cent but women gained 3 per cent. The pattern was more pronounced among part-timers - women's pay surged more than 5 per cent while male earnings were unchanged.

Strong rises in earnings levels in the North of England and Wales helped shrink the discrepancy in regional pay. The largest rise was in the North-east with 4.7 per cent, followed by Wales on 4 per cent. The lowest was London, where weekly earnings ticked up 1 per cent, followed by 2.6 per cent in the South-east. Despite this, the North-east is still the worst-paid region of the UK, with weekly earnings of £365.80 compared with £529.80 in London.

The best-paid workers were company treasurers and financial managers, who received £1,162 a week on average. This was almost five times higher than the lowest-paid workers, kitchen porters on just £184 a week.

Bharti Patel, a director of the Low Pay Unit, said that the minimum wage should be set at half of male median earnings, which the figures showed was £5.

"The figures indicate the role of regulation such as the minimum wage in ensuring better pay for low-paid workers if we are to tackle inequality," she said.