MPs clash over gender pay gap among government staff

June 29, 2009 at 9:17 am 1 comment

by Gemma Pritchard

The Government must do more to narrow the gender pay gap amongst its own staff, a Tory MP has said.

The gender pay gap dominated questions to the Minister for Women and Equality, Vera Baird QC, in the Commons on Thursday.

Tory MP Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) opened the discussion by asking what criteria the minister’s most recent estimate of the gender pay gap in the public and private sectors is based.

Ms Baird, who is also the Solicitor General, stated that the estimate for both sectors uses data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that show that the average hourly gender pay gap for all workers, both full and part-time, is 28.3 per cent. in the private sector and 22 per cent. in the public sector.

Mr Selous said: “I am concerned that the Government continue to set such a poor example with their own staff.

“The Financial Times has obtained unpublished figures from the ONS showing gender pay gaps within the same grade of 12.5 per cent. in the Ministry of Defence and 19.5 per cent. in the Met Office.

“Can the Government not do better with their own staff?

Ms Baird recommended that given his interest in equality of pay, Mr Selous ought to switch benches since the Tories voted against the Equality Bill.

“I served with the hon. Gentleman on the Work and Pensions Committee and I know that he cares about low pay, but he needs to change his party urgently.

“The Tories voted against the Equality Bill on Second Reading, even though it will bring in help regarding unequal pay on a gender basis.

“Moreover, they have just voted in Committee against business even being asked to disclose pay figures that would make the pay gap transparent, and thus exert pressure on firms to press for equality for women. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is a siren voice, and a lone one, from the Tory Benches.”

Conservative member for Southend West David Amess retorted: “The Minister is simply not answering the question. She has not gone into any detail about the criteria involved, and I should have thought that the Government would have more influence on pay disparity in the public sector. Will she accept my party’s suggestion that every secondary school in the country should have a dedicated and professional careers adviser?”

However, the Ms Baird dismissed this policy as “another forlorn and futile gesture from the Tory party” and reiterated her point about the Tory opposition to the Equality Bill, which the Government see as the route to progress on pay equality in the public sector.

Labour MP for Slough, Fiona Mactaggart, made an astute point related to fairer pay in the financial sector, following the nationalisation of several major banks.

Ms Mactaggart said: “Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the largest pay gap in Britain is in the financial services sector, where full-time women are paid 55 per cent. less than full-time men, and part-timers 39 per cent. less? As we own many of the banks responsible for that poor pay, what can the Government do?”

Ms Baird admitted that the pay inequity in the financial sector is “appalling” pay inequity in that sector and that the Government plan to make recommendations on how to resolve it.


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