In 1970 the Equal Pay Act came into force, but even now we still see women on average earning 80p to a man’s £1. Research by the UN suggests that it may up 70 years before the gender pay gap closes, and there are more than enough startling figures about how few women are in senior management positions, even in the UK.
Several day ago I met with John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the first East Midland’s Momentum Conference to discuss Labour’s view on the gender pay gap.
McDonnell ‘s disgust at the gap is almost tangible, describing it as “appalling”, adding: “I just find it staggering – we’re talking 40 years on and we still have this situation.”
Today marks Labour’s Shadow Cabinet meeting in Barking and Dagenham where the first equalities legislation was produced after the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968. McDonnell said: “This is not just symbolic. We want to use that Shadow Cabinet to discuss in detail some of the policies that we’re advocating.
“First of all we want to tighten up the legislation that tackles discrimination in that way.
“The second is to make sure that we improve the trade union rights in this country so that women can be fairly represented, and the government is trying to undermine trade unions’ rights as a result of the trade union bill.
“Then it’s looking at investment, in particular skills training. Investment in bringing women forward through education opportunities as well, so that’s also about tackling the issue of tuition fees which I think still act as a deterrent for many working class women to stay on into higher education and go to university.
“It’s also looking at how girls and young women are treated in the whole educational system.”
As well as these steps, which all seem perfect on paper, he mentioned a more pragmatic way to measure the party’s policy success: “We’re launching a women’s commission as well, so we bring women in from all walks of life to advise us on the development of those policies and their implementation.”
He finished by adding: “It isn’t just income; if you look at the number of chief executives of major companies that are women, there are very few women on boards, or women in senior management positions.
“There’s been a recent assessment about austerity and where the cuts fall, and 81% of the cuts fall on women – again it demonstrates the nature of our society in terms of inequality, but also demonstrates the inequality of policy making as well.”