Cheated at birth: The real gender gap

Women are paid up to £1m less in a lifetime for doing the same work as men
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Women are earning up to £1m less than men during their working life because of a "scandalous culture" of gender inequality in pay, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

A government-commissioned inquiry is to disclose that women are being financially cheated because of a pay and recruitment system heavily biased in favour of men.

In a searching investigation into pay and conditions for men and women, Baroness Prosser, the former trade union leader, will tomorrow highlight the fact that women are still paid much less than men more than 30 years after legislation was meant to guarantee equal pay.

Amid fury from women ministers and groups campaigning for equal pay, the report also reveals women are driven into the lowest-paid jobs dubbed the "five Cs"- catering, cleaning, cashiering, clerical work and caring - and being paid significantly less than their male counterparts. Even at the lower end of the differential, women earn 19 per cent less than men in manufacturing.

Cabinet ministers will use the report, to be presented to Tony Blair tomorrow, to demand urgent action to address the pay gap. The gap means that in the financial sector - the biggest private white-collar employer, with one million people - the discrepancy between women's and men's pay over a lifetime could reach £1m. This represents a difference of 41 per cent that is mirrored among lower-paid, part-time workers. But the commission's failure to recommend legislation has sparked a political row and disappointed senior women ministers who had hoped for tougher measures.

The commission's report, "Shaping a Fairer Future", also finds that women are being forced to take jobs they are overqualified for when returning to work after having children.

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for greater opportunities for women in public life, last night called for "bold measures" to abolish the pay gap. "At the current rate it is going to take more than 80 years to close the full-time pay gap and around 140 to end the part-time pay gap. We are not prepared to wait that long," said Katherine Rake, the society's director.

"Simply encouraging employers to change is not going to work fast enough. We need the Government to introduce strong enforcement measures to narrow the pay gap."

The Trades Unions Congress also called for urgent action. "We will be disappointed if the commission does not recommend mandatory pay audits, but we are still confident that the report's recommendations can make a difference if government, employers and unions act on them," a spokesman said.

Women ministers have privately been lobbying for legislation forcing companies to publish men's and women's pay scales in the annual report. One said the commission did not have "enough teeth".

Jenny Watson, chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said "action is needed on all fronts" if the pay gap is to be closed.