Number of women in work in Britain hits record high - but figures show the gender pay gap is growing too


Social Affairs Correspondent

More women are in work than ever before as official figures show a record-breaking 14 million now have jobs. The female employment rate reached 67.2 per cent last year, the highest since the Office for National Statistics’ records began.

However, experts cautioned today that this rise had coincided with an increase in the gender pay gap, as median wages for women fell. The increase was also largely created by more women declaring themselves self-employed, which could mean many pocketing paltry sums far below the minimum wage.

Overall, 193,000 more men and women got jobs between October and December 2013, taking the total number in work to 30.15 million people. British workers made up almost nine tenths of the employment rise.

Diane Elson, Chair of the UK Women’s Budget Group, which analyses how women fare in the labour market, told The Independent: “While it’s good to see women’s employment rate increasing, we have to look at the quality of employment. There are two things in the latest statistics that the Government is not highlighting: median wages and self-employment.”

The median weekly earnings for men rose from £502 to £508 over the last year, but for women they fell from £413 to £411. This means the gender pay gap has now risen from £89 to £97 pounds a week.

Much of the rise in employment amongst women was down to more declaring themselves self-employed. Professor Elson believes that this category could hide large numbers putting in very long hours for little financial return.

The number of women registered as self-employed went up 5.3 per cent between the last quarter of 2012 and the same period last year, to 1.357 million. Amongst men, self-employment rose by only 2.8 per cent.

Long-term unemployment, which often stays stubbornly high, fell by 45,000 in the three months to December 2013. Job vacancies were also up, increasing by 28,000 to 580,000 in the last quarter.

Employment Minister Esther McVey said: “With employment continuing to increase, it’s clear that the Government’s long-term plan to build a stronger, more secure economy is helping businesses create jobs and get people into work.

“Record numbers of women are in work and youth unemployment continues to fall, which means more people have the security of a regular wage and can plan for their future.”

The number of young people in work increased by 49,000, with those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance falling for the last 20 months. However Rachel Reeves MP, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said unemployment amongst young people was still worryingly high.

“While today’s fall in overall unemployment is welcome, the Government must not be complacent”, she said. “More than 900,000 young people are still unemployed and over 250,000 young people have been unemployed for over a year. Today‘s figures also show working people facing a cost-of-living crisis are over £1,600-a-year worse off since David Cameron’s became Prime Minister.”

Although unemployment fell by 125,000 in the last quarter, there were indications that improvements to the labour market were slowing. The unemployment rate increased from 7.1 to 7.2 per cent between the penultimate and last quarter of the year.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These are encouraging figures for the millions of people desperate for work...But people already in work have less to cheer about with prices still rising twice as fast as wages. While we have a record proportion of women in employment the widening gender pay gap means many women are not getting the fair pay they deserve.”

Case study: The graduate, back on track

Chloë Wright, 27,  from Ironbridge Gorge  in Shropshire, said:

“After graduating from university [Aberystwyth] in 2008 I had a string of part-time jobs to make up a full-time wage. One of my employers, a champagne company, then took me on full time.

But after about 18 months the company closed and I was made redundant. I wasn’t entitled to jobseeker’s  allowance because I was living with my partner, who had also just been made redundant. I started cleaning houses for friends to earn enough money to pay my rent.

I was unemployed for about four months when I managed to get a part-time job doing marketing for a hotel that had seen some of my previous work.

I finally got a full-time job as a marketing executive at an IT company through an agency. It felt great to get back into full-time work. It was a huge relief and it’s  brilliant to have my career back on track.”

Case study: The breadwinner - ‘I treat him quite a lot’

Helen Cox, 39, is a programme manager at the BBC. She lives in Clacton-On-Sea with her partner.

“My partner works ad hoc as a landlord, but mostly he’s renovating the house that we bought. I earn about £45,000 a year more than he does. We’ve been together just over three years.

I was earning more than him when we first met. He was happy we had the opportunity to pool our resources: his skills and my income, so it hasn’t really been an issue, apart from when I want to spend a lot of money on a holiday!

We’ve kind of adjusted to the difference in earnings. He knows what my means are and I know what his expectations are. I will buy all the theatre tickets, for example, and that’s just kind of accepted. I treat him quite a lot. If I make a decision like having organic vegetables, I will buy them.

I don’t really see myself as supporting him. He’s working hard on the house and he has enough money to support himself. We do have a joint bank account but we just put money for the bills and the mortgage in that, it’s not where the shopping or going out money goes. We both have separate bank accounts too. I think it’s important to keep those things separate.

I think more women are becoming the breadwinners and I’ve also got several friends whose partners are taking on the opposite role of homemaker. They’re staying at home and raising the children because the women are earning more so it makes more financial sense for them to return to work.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before