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Dismiss the gender pay gap data at your peril

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LGC’s essential daily briefing on the need for more gender pay gap analysis

Eight years ago on Sunday, the Queen gave Royal Assent to what was described at the time as one of the most extraordinarily radical pieces of legislation in living memory.

The Equality Act 2010 for the first time brought all anti-discrimination law under one umbrella, asserting equality regardless of any personal characteristic.

Yet responses to a survey of gender pay differences published ahead of this Wednesday’s deadline reveal that local government remains a man’s world.

Of 293 councils, 175 reported a “significant” pay gap of at least 5% in favour of men. This compared to the 18 councils who, on average, paid women “significantly” more than men.

Importantly, LGC found it was not possible to conclude from the data that female council workers are paid less for doing the same job than their male counterparts. 

However, this data offered the first real major insight into the state of gender pay differences in the UK. It has made news headlines for several days but it will probably start to disappear once again into the hinterlands of debate, to be replaced by the next fire that needs fighting.

But the problems underlying the data will not go away and councils should not forget these findings.

LGC asked 152 of England’s top-tier councils in a freedom of information request in February to release its most recent equal pay audit. At that point in time only 18% of those councils - 28 in total - reported having carried out an audit since 2015. Many councils said they had not carried out an audit because they already carried out job evaluations and it had not previously been a statutory requirement to produce an audit.

Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield told LGC that this is a cause for concern.

“The main problem is that councils don’t carry out annual equal pay audits despite ongoing reorganisation all over the place,” she said. “Our members keep telling us they are performing additional tasks but their jobs are not being re-evaluated.”

The standard pay policy document at any given council will report that men and women are paid the same salary for the same work, as per the requirement in the Equality Act. Yet at least one council has told LGC it has not evaluated any gender difference at each pay grade level as this information is “not specifically” required.

Organisations were required by law to return a specific amount of information which they duly published. However, there was no requirement to publish a breakdown of that data and, as a result, many councils have not carried out this essential piece of research.

This term-for-term comparison of overall pay and benefits is exactly what employment tribunals look for when discerning whether discrimination has taken place. By not investigating gender pay gaps at the pay grade level councils are potentially leaving themselves open to claims. 

In 2014 Birmingham City Council was forced to put the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) up for sale to help foot a £1.1bn bill for backdated claims, after 174 former workers won an equal pay case. This massive amount remains a stark reminder of the potential cost to councils of failing to get to grips with gender pay equality.

As Jo Miller, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers president and Doncaster MBC chief executive, told LGC it is important senior council officers analyse their data in detail to “understand their narrative” and ensure they know what they are doing “to enable women and ethnic minorities within your organisations [to progress]”.

Councils that dismiss today’s report of a gender pay gap run the risk of being tomorrow’s headlines over pay inequality.

By Robert Cusack, reporter

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