Scotland lags rest of UK as gender pay gap widens

The think-tank found there has been a rise in the difference between male and female salaries since 2011
The think-tank found there has been a rise in the difference between male and female salaries since 2011
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THE gap in pay between men and women in Scotland is widening despite closing elsewhere in the UK, new research has shown.

Independent think-tank Fiscal Affairs Scotland found there has been a rise in the difference between male and female salaries north of the Border since 2011. Separate research by the Law Society of Scotland, published today, found male solicitors earn as much as 42 per cent more than their female counterparts.

A 42% pay gap refects very badly on the profession

Janet Hood of the Law Society

The figures come despite Nicola Sturgeon’s “Women’s Pledge” earlier in the year in which the First Minister vowed to deliver on a range of policies to promote equality between the sexes. Fiscal Affairs said Scotland outperformed both ­England and Wales between 1997 and 2011 before going backwards.

In a bulletin yesterday, it said: “The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that over the last four decades there has been a long-term decline in the gender pay gap across all countries of the UK and this has continued since 1997. Despite such progress, not all the news is good. While Scotland performed better than England and Wales between 1997 and 2011, since 2011, Scotland has seen a rise in the gender gap.

“This is in contrast to the continuing decline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is not clear why this should be the case.

“Second, while the gender gap [across the UK] has narrowed to under 10 per cent for women aged up to their mid-30s, the gap then grows to 30 per cent by the age of 40 and to over 40 per cent by the age of 50. This level of gap is not a great reduction on that seen in 1975, when it was just over 50 per cent.”

The report also noted a continuing wage differential for women over 40, possibly because equality legislation has had a greater impact on newer entrants to the labour market.

However, it said another explanation could be women having children later in life, leading to a delay in the gender gap kicking in.

Meanwhile, the Law Society reported pay gaps between men and women at all stages of their legal careers. Comparing average salaries, it found significant differences between men and women which it said reflected “very badly” on the profession.

Janet Hood, convener of the Law Society’s equality and diversity committee, said: “A 42 per cent gender pay gap reflects very badly on what is otherwise a modern and forward-thinking profession, with some female solicitors effectively working for free for five months of the year.

“There are many and nuanced reasons why the gender pay gap exists, and the legal profession is certainly not alone – figures from November 2014 show the overall UK gap was 9.4 per cent.

“However, we have seen little change in the past decade compared to other professions such as accountancy or dentistry and it is a major concern that such a substantial gap persists 45 years after the UK Equal Pay Act and ten years of Law Society equality research and promoting good practice within the legal ­profession.

“Quite simply, it is not something we can afford to ignore, for either ethical or business reasons.”

Women now make up half the legal profession in Scotland and while there is little difference in male and female salaries early in their careers, there is a growing divergence when they reach their mid-thirties.

According to the Law Society, from age 36 onwards women are more prevalent in salary bands up to £65,000 and men in bands over £65,000.

The research found women tend to remain associates or assistants rather than be promoted to partner level. It also indicated career breaks longer than six months were a significant barrier to career progression.

In July, the UK government announced it would become mandatory for businesses of more than 250 employees to publish wage data by gender.

Scottish Conservative spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “Like so many crucial issues, the SNP speaks hard words but does nothing when it comes to action. Instead of endlessly talking about this matter, the Scottish Government should get its head down and actually do something. That’s what the UK government has done, and it appears to be having a positive impact.” Labour MSP Jackie Baillie added: “It’s not clear what the reasons for this are, but what is certain is that something is going wrong.

“We may have a female First Minister in Scotland but that doesn’t appear to be making much difference to the women getting paid less than men. SNP ministers need to come forward with a clear plan for closing the gender pay gap.”

A spokeswoman for the government said: “Tackling low pay and the gender pay gap are key priorities.

“While equality legislation is reserved [to Westminster], we have committed £3.9 million to fund projects aimed at tackling the gender pay gap and occupational segregation.

“The First Minister is determined to make major and lasting progress towards true gender equality and has called on businesses to work towards achieving a 50/50 gender split on their boards by 2020.

“Our approach to Fair Work also recognises the importance of fair pay and we have established a Fair Work Convention.”