It's Time We Discussed The Class Pay Gap

We monitor gender pay gaps, ethnicity pay gaps, CEO to average worker pay ratios - why not class?
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Working class? Take a pay cut.

As a woman, I make it my business to know about the gender pay gap, and indeed I’ve been interviewed about it and have spoken about equal pay several times since Christmas. In addition, as a Black woman, I know that I bear a double pay penalty. However, in January last year, the Social Mobility Commission’s report revealed a £6,800 ‘class pay gap’ between professionals from working class backgrounds compared to colleagues from more affluent backgrounds. That’s when I realised that I was also being penalised for being working class. This report was one of the best pieces of work that the Social Mobility Commission was responsible for.

The report pointed to the intergenerational dominance of the professional class. As the report found “the odds of those from professional backgrounds ending up in professional jobs are 2.5 times higher than the odds of those from less advantaged backgrounds reaching the professions.” Tellingly, it goes on to say that “45% of earnings inequalities are passed across generations”, which should worry us all greatly. Especially when you take into consideration the Longevity Science Panel’s report this month reiterated that ‘of the many factors comprising the Index of Multiple Deprivation, income levels have the most powerful influence over neighbourhood death rates.’ So the relationship between class and income matters, because a boy born in 2015, in one of the most advantaged 20% of neighbourhoods can expect to live 8.4 years longer than his contemporary born in one of the least advantaged 20% of neighbourhoods. This has increased from 2001, when that gap was 7.2 years.

Starkly, 73% of doctors are from professional and managerial backgrounds, but fewer than 6% are from working-class backgrounds.

The deck is stacked against working class and poor children, as some may be as far as 12-18 months behind their peers when they start primary school, a gap that gets ever more cavernous as many fall further behind. Although education isn’t the only engine of social mobility, it’s clear that those who can afford to work unpaid as interns, secure work experience through family connections and have recourse to the bank of Mum and Dad, are likely to earn more and to gain jobs in the professions. It’s far easier to think about becoming a lawyer if your mother is a lawyer. Interestingly, as one lawyer told me, ’I’m less likely to make it as a partner, because I don’t have a network of contacts and family friends whom I can tap for business. So I can’t bring in the work that my more advantaged peers can.”

We are seeing the emergence of a working class fight back, led by fantastic groups such as Reclaim and this week sees the launch of Britain Has Class. The BBC’s Steph McGovern, the actor Christopher Ecclestone and author Kit de Waal have all raised the issue of class discrimination within their varying sectors. It’s a subject I’ll be speaking about at TEDx Oxford this week. Although discrimination on the grounds of class is not featured in the Equality Act 2010, the Socio-Economic Duty (Section1) does require public bodies to take into account the effects of their policies on those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. Unfortunately, despite its clear remit to tackle socio-economic disadvantage, Section 1 was not brought into force. The Equality Trust and Just Fair are campaigning for it to be brought into force and to date over 65 MPs have signed EDM 591, urging its introduction. The Scottish Government has pledged to introduce the Socio-Economic Duty and Newcastle City Council is one of the few councils to introduce it in all but name.

As The Equality Trust will be monitoring and reporting on gender pay gaps and CEO to average worker pay ratios and as more data is gathered on ethnicity pay gaps, surely the time has come for businesses and organisations to also disclose their class pay gaps?

Dr Wanda Wyporska is Executive Director of The Equality Trust