THE BLOG

Politics Is a Funny Business - But There's Nothing Funny About the Failure to Fix the Gender Pay Gap

23/03/2016 12:51 GMT | Updated 24/03/2017 09:12 GMT

On Monday I woke up early, retrieved a half-drunk can of lager from the kitchen and stuck a pink rosette on my nose. My morning rituals have changed substantially since I co-founded the Women's Equality Party (WE) last year.

It's true that in my former life as a journalist for TIME, I would also rise at dawn. I needed to be across breaking news. These days my relationship with the news is a little different. WE aim to make the news--and ultimately to make good news. Part of that process involves highlighting bad news neglected by the media. The biggest bad news story of all is so shocking that you'd think it would dominate the global headlines every day: nowhere in the world are women equal to men. Yes, some women break through and in the UK we enjoy most of the same legal rights as men. But existing parity laws are inadequate and legislation alone cannot fix the situation. Men continue to dominate politics and business and newsrooms and many other spheres of activity, to the detriment of all of those spheres and of everyone, including men. Women on average are poorer than men, juggle more responsibilities, suffer discrimination, harassment and sexual violence, and the picture is worse still for women born into poverty and for women of colour, women with disabilities and all genders in the LGBT+ community.

So on Monday WE launched this tragi-comic video showing women marking the unhappy new year--the new female earning year--to draw attention to a persistent inequity, a gender pay gap that endures almost 46 years after the Equal Pay Act received royal assent. As the video went online, Westminster's Women and Equalities Select Committee released a report on the gender pay gap, revealing that it has been pretty much static in the last four years, despite the government's pledge to eradicate it within a generation. According to the Office for National Statistics, working women earn an average of £10.37 per hour, while working men earn an average of £12.92 per hour--a 20% gap. WE are also inviting women to photograph their own 20% less good festivities and to post these pictures online with the hashtag #paydayparty. I selfied with my warm beer and nose-rosette to help get the festivities under way.

Such campaigns raise awareness but much, much more needs to be done. The Women's Equality Party is the only party focused on enabling women to thrive so that everyone benefits, from the huge boost to the economy this would create and the happier, safer society that would result. WE published our first policies last October and these include a requirement for companies with more than 250 employees to publish pay data broken down by gender, ethnicity and disability, to be extended to businesses with more than 50 employees within three years. WE are also campaigning to lower the fee for issuing an employment claim from the current £250 to £50 and to remove the hearing fee of £950 altogether. Crucially, we unveiled a fully-funded plan for childcare for all children from the end of paid parental leave at nine months and are pushing for flexible working practices to minimise the penalty that caregiving routinely inflicts on women.

WE invited all the other political parties to work with us to deliver gender equality or to steal our policies, and we've seen movement on both fronts. Ahead of the May 5 elections our London mayoral candidate, WE party leader Sophie Walker, and our excellent candidates for the London Assembly are letting voters know how much greater a great city London could be if women enjoyed true equality. They are promoting policies to close a pay gap that's higher than the national average, making eye-wateringly high housing and living costs even less affordable for women. Our candidates for the Welsh Assembly delivered a cheque for £11,000 to the Senedd last week, representing the annual cost of covering childcare between the end of parental leave at nine months and when free universal care kicks in for three-year-olds. And in Scotland, our Lothian and Glasgow candidates are planning a calvacade through Edinburgh next month to shout as loudly as they can about this ongoing inequality.

It hasn't escaped our notice that quite a few of our concerns and policies are popping up in speeches by rival candidates. Labour's mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan has now added closing the gender pay gap to his eight manifesto priorities. Politics is a funny business and if and when he produces the policies that could make that happen WE'll take him more seriously. Because there has been nothing funny about the failure of old politics to deliver gender equality. WE exist to change that.

Catherine Mayer is the president and co-founder of the Women's Equality Party