Women close pay gap but earnings lose ground to inflation

The pay gap between male and female workers has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time, according to official figures.

The difference between men's and women's median hourly pay, excluding overtime, fell from 10.5 per cent to 9.6 per cent during the year to April 2012, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

But both sexes were worse off in real terms as wage packets rose by just half the rate of inflation over the last year.

In April 2012 average gross weekly earnings for full-time employees were £506, up just 1.5 per cent from £498 in 2011. This took the average full-time wage to £26,500.

It left workers nursing real-terms pay cuts as the official Consumer Prices Index benchmark stood at 3 per cent in April.

Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder of online freelance marketplace PeoplePerHour, said: "Women may be starting to win the battle of the sexes, but the workforce as a whole is losing the battle with inflation. Wage increases are not keeping pace with the rising cost of living."

However, the figures revealed a narrowing in the gap between the highest and lowest-paid employees. In the year to April, the basic hourly earnings excluding overtime of the most well paid 10 per cent of full-timers fell by 0.2 per cent, whereas those in the bottom 10 per cent saw an increase of 2.3 per cent.

London came top of the pay table with average weekly earnings of £653, rising to £917 in the City. This was more than double the £453 a week picked up by full-time workers in Wales, the lowest-paid region.

The figures also showed that the average, part-time hourly wage increased by just 1p to £8.01 over the past year.

Around one in five part-time workers earned £6.30 an hour or less, compared with the national minimum wage of £6.19 an hour, while two out of five earned less than the so-called living wage of £7.45.

More than one in 100 workers is paid less than the minimum wage with 287,000 jobs paying less than the legal benchmark, according to the ONS.

Young people were more likely to be paid less than the minimum wage than older workers, with 18,000 16 and 17-year-olds, or 6.5 per cent, paid less than £3.68 an hour.