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Only Labour Has The Policies And Political Will To Finally End The Gender Pay Gap

03/08/2017 08:27 BST | Updated 03/08/2017 08:27 BST
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From the newspaper front pages to the phone-in radio shows, Twitterstorms and countless websites, the one story which seemed to get everyone talking in the last few days has been the revelation that BBC bosses pay their male "stars" far more than their female counterparts.

But were any of us really surprised by this divulgence of inequality? The fact that men presenting the TV news, or radio shows, or reporting from war-torn countries are paid vastly more than women doing the same jobs is hardly "news". We all know it's a basic fact of too many workplaces for the vast majority of women.

Of course it's hard to feel a lot of sympathy for women earning £150,000 a year or more for being paid less than the bloke sitting on the breakfast telly sofa beside them, but the inherent unfairness is the same whether you're a weather presenter or a school dinner lady.

It was, of course, the Labour Party which introduced the ground-breaking Equal Pay Act in 1970 which "prohibited any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment". But 47 years on we know that simple statement is still not the reality for hundreds of thousands of women. The question now is what are we actually going to do about it?

Every year, around the beginning of November, Equal Pay Day comes around - highlighting the discrepancies between men's and women's salaries and to be blunt, how many days women effectively work for free because of the scale of the gender pay gap. Last year it was only one day later than the previous year, proving change is ridiculously slow and why, by itself, current legislation has simply not proved effective in levelling the playing field.

Average pay for women working full-time is still 9.4% lower than for full-time male employees according to the Office for National Statistics. In Scotland the gap is lower at 6.2%. But while there's been improvement since 1997 when it stood at 17.4%, it's still far too wide. Indeed, one estimate suggests that equal pay will only, eventually, happen around 2069. I rest my case.

Women are also penalised in the workplace with fewer promotions when they return to work after childcare responsibilities, and because they tend to work in jobs with lower salaries such as in caring or administrative roles unlawful maternity and pregnancy discrimination is now more common in Britain's workplaces than ever before, with 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers forced out of their jobs in 2015.

There's also a penalty for working part-time where pay is, on average, less per hour than full-time - and a higher proportion of women work part-time, 42 per cent compared with only 13 per cent of men.

The Tories' cuts to public services and social security are also landing disproportionately on women, with 86% of the money raised from their tax and social security changes coming from the pockets of women.

And if we needed more proof of the appalling state of inequality in the UK, we are now in 20th place in the gender equality global rankings compiled by the World Economic Forum, when in 2006 we were in ninth.

As in 1970, Labour is the party fighting for women's equality. Our manifesto showed how we would radically change women's lives by ensuring they are paid a real living wage of £10 an hour, by abolishing zero hour contracts and ensuring that the WASPI women are compensated for the changes to their pensions, by scrapping the abhorrent "rape clause", by strengthening protections for women against unfair redundancy - because no one should be penalised for having children. By reversing the unfair employment tribunal fees that price people out of justice, by introducing a gender audit of all policy and legislation for its impact on women before implementation.

There is so much more Labour would do for women in Scotland too - by introducing really flexible, all-age, year-round childcare, by investing in further education where the fall in student numbers in Scotland has been most acute among women, by introducing a Member's Bill to tackle period poverty which sees many women and girls unable to afford sanitary protection, and by campaigning for pay scale ratios to be made public and for public boards to have a 50-50 gender split.

Ultimately it's about choice and the kind of society we want to live in. Women are the many in the UK, yet much of politics and policy is skewed towards the few. Labour has the policies and the political will to change that. This would not only help all the female BBC staff being paid less than their colleagues for doing the same job, but help the millions of other women struggling to work, to raise a family, to care for ageing parents - and in so doing help their partners and children as well.