Half of companies did not report their gender pay gap this year, with the number of firms releasing such information having halved since 2019, a new study has found.
The report, which comes out on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, warned coronavirus upheaval could push women’s equality back by a generation.
The deadline for public sector bodies to release gender pay gap data was 30 March, while private companies were due to do so on 4 April, but the government halted companies’ requirement to report in the wake of the public health crisis.
The study, conducted by Business in the Community, draws attention to the fact organisations have relevant gender pay gap statistics a whole year in advance, but the choice to suspend obligations to release such data took place less than a fortnight before the April deadline.
Rules obliging companies and other organisations who employ over 250 people to release their respective gender pay gap figures were implemented in 2017.
Last year’s reporting showed the gender pay gap has widened in favour of men at nearly half of the biggest firms and public sector bodies in the UK since the year before – with almost 8 in 10 companies still paying men more than women and more than a quarter paying female workers up to 20 per cent less.
Charlotte Woodworth, of the charity which champions responsible business, said: “Pay gap reporting is a vital tool in understanding and tackling gender inequality at work.
“If we don’t have a clear picture of women’s status at work entering the crisis, we won’t be able to take the right steps going forward. It is hugely disappointing to see so many opted out when the legal requirement was lifted – and a worrying sign of attitudes towards gender equality during the crisis.
“The choices companies make now will play a vital role in deciding whether we lock in the progress made in recent years, or see women’s standing at work unravel.”
The report warns gender equality is at grave risk in the wake of the coronavirus emergency due to women being overrepresented in sectors most badly hit by the lockdown and already being more likely to work in lower-paid, more precarious work than men.
Researchers urge firms who have yet to release their gender pay gap data to still do so – noting the government is continuing to receive data throughout the course of the year.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of gender equality charity the Fawcett Society, told The Independent: “Gender pay reporting must be reinstated as soon as possible and extended to include smaller employers and also ethnicity pay reporting.
“We are seeing decades of progress on women’s equality in the workplace reversed as a result of this crisis. Government needs to act to ensure women and girls are not left behind. Otherwise, the economic recovery will fail.”
A report by the Trades Union Congress released in March found women work an average of two months for free each year due to the UK’s gender pay gap, which is 17.3 per cent.
Liz Truss, the minister for women and equalities who recently shelved the gender pay gap reporting requirement, strongly backs cutting regulations for businesses and had talks with right-wing libertarian American think tanks to talk about deregulation and “Reaganomics” in 2018.
Announcing the decision back in March, Ms Truss and David Isaac, Equality and Human Rights Commission chair, said: “We recognise that employers across the country are facing unprecedented uncertainty and pressure at this time. Because of this, we feel it is only right to suspend enforcement of gender pay gap reporting this year.”
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