Whitehall struggles to close its gender pay gap


Some of the UK government’s largest departments have seen the gap between what they pay men and women widen in the last year, despite ministers’ efforts to tackle gender inequality across British business.

Since 2017 every organisation with 250 or more employees has been required to report its gender pay gap annually in an effort to highlight the large disparities between men’s’ and women’s’ pay.

The overall gender pay gap across the UK economy was 8.3 per cent in April 2022, according to the most recent estimate of the Office for National Statistics.

However, FT analysis has shown that some of the government’s own departments have seen the gap between the average amount they pay male and female staff increase this year.

The data emerged as prime minister Rishi Sunak this week addressed a reception to celebrate International Women’s Day.

“To grow our economy, create jobs and build a more productive and innovative country, we need the transformative power of women,” he told the assembled women business leaders and students.

However, the difference in median pay for men and women at the Cabinet Office, which includes the prime minister’s team, jumped by 6.8 percentage points — from 9.8 per cent to 16.6 per cent — over the past year, one of the largest increases in Whitehall.

Other departments where the gender pay gap increased include HMRC, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Transport and the Department for Education.

One of the largest gender pay gaps in the civil service was at the Treasury, where a comparison of the median hourly rate showed that women get paid 82p for every pound earned by men — a level that remains unchanged since last year. Since 2017 the gender pay gap at the department has increased from 13.7 per cent to 18 per cent.

DCMS saw the biggest annual reversal in progress, moving from parity on median pay in 2021 to a gender pay gap of 9.8 per cent in 2022.

The pay gap at the Department for Transport jumped 7.1 percentage points, from 5.8 per cent to 12.9 per cent; at HMRC it rose from 8.8 per cent to 12.6 per cent; while at the Department for Education it increased from 4 per cent to 4.9 per cent.

“The government is not walking the talk. It’s important that we see the government as the exemplar. It is supposed to work to close the national gender pay gap, not make it worse,” said Ann Francke, head of the Chartered Management Institute.

Many government departments continue to see a higher percentage of female staff in junior roles, and less representation at more senior levels.

For example, at the Cabinet Office, less than a third of senior civil servants are women and the average female salary is £88,918 compared with the average male salary of £95,136.

Gender pay gaps have narrowed at eight other government departments, and stayed flat at two, including the Treasury. The only major department yet to report its gender pay figures for this year is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “While the latest data shows there are proportionally more women employed in the civil service than ever before and the median gender pay gap across a majority of government departments is falling, there’s clearly more to do.” 

Since the introduction of reporting rules there have been gradual reductions in the gender pay gaps at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, the department for health and social care, the Home Office, and the Ministry of Defence.

No department has ever reported a negative gender pay gap — where the median hourly pay for women is higher than for men.

Francke said that widening pay gaps reflected badly on efforts to address the productivity problems in the UK, which she said was in part caused by the failure to get more women into the workforce and into senior jobs.

“You would get better, more innovative policies in these departments, with more women in senior positions.” she said.

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