Progress 'grinding to a halt' on equal pay

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Moves towards achieving equal pay for men and women appear to be "grinding to a halt" because of long-standing inequalities which remain in Britain, a report said today.

A "landmark" study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that some equality gaps had closed over the past generation, but other problems remained and there were fears that racial and religious prejudice was on the increase.

One of the main findings was that the gender pay gap had fallen for the past 30 years, but progress seemed to have "halted", with full-time women workers earning 16.4% less than men.

The gender pay gap was lowest for the under-30s, rising more than five-fold by the time workers reached 40, with a "pernicious earnings penalty" affecting some ethnic minority and disabled people.

Women with no qualifications faced a 58% loss in earnings over their lifetime if they had children, while all women aged 40 earned 27% less than men of the same age, said the commission.

Disabled men earned 11% less than other male workers, while the gap was 22% for women. Black graduates faced a pay penalty of up to 24%, the study suggested.

"Evidence suggests that the workplace remains a stressful and difficult place for some groups, specifically transgender people and irregular migrant workers," said the report.

An analysis of living standards showed that income poverty still affected some groups of women, ethnic minority groups and families with disabled members.

Total household wealth of the top 10% in society was almost 100 times higher than for the poorest 10%, while one in five people lived in a household with less than 60% of average income.

One in 10 people lived in polluted and grimy neighbourhoods, with crime, violence and vandalism more likely to affect women with children and many ethnic minority groups, according to the report.

The EHRC warned that Britain's ageing population was creating new kinds of "chronic disadvantage", with rising demand for personal care for older people, said the 700-page report.

EHRC chairman Trevor Phillips said: "This review holds up the mirror to fairness in Britain. It is the most complete picture of its kind ever compiled. It shows that we are a people who have moved light years in our attitudes to all kinds of human difference, and in our desire to be a truly fair society, but that we are still a country where our achievements haven't yet caught up with our aspirations.

"Sixty years on from the Beveridge report and the creation of the welfare state, his five giants of squalor, disease, ignorance, want and idleness have been cut down to size, though they still stalk the land.

"But in the 21st century we face a fresh challenge - the danger of a society divided by the barriers of inequality and injustice. For some, the gateways to opportunity appear permanently closed, no matter how hard they try; whilst others seems to have been issued with an 'access all areas' pass at birth.

"Recession, demographic change and new technology all threaten to deepen the fault lines between insiders and outsiders."

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "The report will back the coalition's determination to reserve prison only for serious and violent offenders but will then raise important questions about the need for health and social services to respond to vulnerable people dumped in the prison system.

"This could be the wake-up call needed to turn prisons from social dustbins into proper places of last resort. Those justice professionals who have taken some pride in 'never being as bad as America' will be shaken to discover that our flawed system has delivered grossly disproportionate incarceration of black people which shamingly now outdoes inequalities in the States."