Flexible working for all lies at the heart of eliminating the gender pay gap, according to a report published by a Select Committee.
The cross-party committee of MPs was critical of the government’s approach in many areas and called for a range of measures to be adopted. These include all jobs being flexible ‘by default’ and the introduction of three months’ well-paid, non-transferable leave for fathers and second parents, to enable more equal sharing of childcare.
The UK’s gender pay gap for full and part-time workers stood at 19.2% in November last year. Women over the age of 40 are most affected and the differential for the 50-59 year group is 27%.
Women and Equalities Committee chair Maria Miller said: “The gender pay gap is holding back women and that isn’t going to change unless the Government changes its policies now. The pay gap represents a massive loss to the UK’s economy and we must address it in the face of an ageing workforce, a skills crisis and the need for a more competitive economy.”
The report called for men and women to be supported in sharing all caring responsibilities more equally and said many women are trapped in low-paid part-time work below their skill level, costing the UK economy up to 2% of GDP (£36 billion). It was particularly critical of part-time working, saying it has long-lasting negative consequences for women and pointing to alternative flexible options.
The report added that many organisations are focused on presenteeism instead of productivity, and there is a reluctance to think about changing the way jobs are designed.
It referenced positive work being done to embed ‘smart working’ inside government but said this is not trickling down to other organisations. The report criticised the lack of publicity around a recent joint government-BSI code on smart working and the £75 charge for accessing it. The committee also said there has been a lack of leadership by ministers on the question advertising and enabling flexibility when hiring.
Miller said the right to request flexible working – which currently applies after 26 weeks’ with an organisation – should be a day one right. All jobs should be available to work flexibly unless an employer can demonstrate an ‘immediate and continuing business case against doing so’.
“Waiting for cultural change to increase the number of flexible jobs available will not help the Government achieve its aim of reducing the gender pay gap,” said the report.
On the subject of shared parental leave (SPL), it said the policy is predicted to make little difference. Instead, a three-month period of non-transferable leave is needed for fathers or second parents so that childcare is more equally shared. The report cited Germany as a policy example and said SPL should be an individual right and not, as is currently the case, tied to maternity relinquishment.
The report also tackled the issues of returning to work and the barriers faced by women in low-paid, highly feminised areas such as caring and retail.
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