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The UK Gender Pay Gap Needs Closing

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My ears are still ringing with the screams of Barack Obama's supporters welcoming him into office for another four years, while the commentariat is now hard at work predicting what his next term will be like. There were so many disappointments in his first, although it started so well, with that lovely scene of him signing into law the Lily Leadbetter Fair Pay Act.

American women have seen little progress since (although this has certainly been a good election for them and they might hope for better times) - as have British women. Yesterday marked Equal Pay Day in the UK, the point in the year when women in effect start 'working for nothing' compared to men.

Depressingly even though legislation to ensure equal pay has been in place for 40 years, the gender pay gap in Britain remains among the highest in the EU. On average, women in the UK earn about 15% less than men. And that's an inequality found right across the pay scales - and the concentration of women in certain areas of the economy is now standing against them.

At the low-paid end, with around three-quarters of a million public sector jobs predicted to go by 2017, the government hopes those workers, a large majority of them women will find private sector jobs, but there the pay gap is much larger - 20% to the public sector's 13%.

They're seeing those jobs increasingly outsourced (a process of stunning inefficiency and high cost), and re-created with even lower pay, poorer conditions and less security. At the other end of the employment scale, research by the Chartered Management Institute, suggest that on average in a boardroom, a woman will earn a staggering £423,000 less than a man in her career. That's if she makes it there at all - we've now got five FTSE100 companies headed by women, but three of them are leaving....

In between, for graduates starting out on their careers, there's little sign of progress. Professor Peter Elias from Warwick University has found that gender pay gap in graduate earnings - about £2,000 a year in their first job - is still much the same as it was 10 years ago.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, made it clear at the Tory Party Conference that he is keen to erode worker's rights yet further by encouraging employees to take out shares in the company in exchange for giving up their rights to claim unfair dismissal or redundancy. Maternity leave would also alter in return for the shares; women on maternity leave would be required to give 16 weeks' notice of intention to return to work instead of the current eight weeks.

We can hope that Obama may do more in the US to tackle pay inequality - it's hard to imagine David Cameron doing likewise, although I've got to congratulate Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem equalities minister, for calling for company reports to include figures on the employment of women at all levels - good luck with getting that, and gender pay audits, which were in the Lib Dem manifesto for the last election, through your government.