The Gender Pay Gap Gains Are At Risk Of Erosion

Amid the bleak economic outlook, women in the UK had a little something to smile about just before the festive season got under way.

This was owing to the Office of National Statistics‘ (ONS) revelation that the gender pay gap had narrowed markedly.

Figures showed it had dropped below 10% for the first time after women’s earnings increased faster than men’s. The gap between men’s and women’s median full-time hourly earnings had fallen from 10.1% in April 2010 to 9.1% in April last year.

The change followed a 1.9% increase in women’s earnings – up from £11.69 an hour to £11.91 – compared with a rise of 0.8% for men, from £13 to £13.11.

Meanwhile, women working part-time were also being paid more than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap for part-time workers was -5.6%, widening from – 4.3% last year, the ONS said.

Undeniably, as it stands the pay gap based on all employees had fallen from 19.8% to 19.5%.

In this sequence, a month earlier, the minimum wage for women was increased to £6.08 an hour. However, The Telegraph reported on research which suggested women in their 20s were earning more than men of the same age.

But this hard-won progress that has so far been made in narrowing the gender pay gap is in danger of disappearing in a puff of austerity smoke as more and more women lose their jobs.

Female unemployment in the UK is at its highest in 23 years – 1.13 million.(ONS)

Women workers also made up two thirds of the 48,000 hike in the number of people out of work in the three months to December, which brought the jobless figures to 2.67m.

Putting aside the top earners, those women still managing to hang onto their jobs – amid whole swathes of public sector redundancies sweeping across the country – are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

In a report last year, the Resolution Foundation noted that “while the National Minimum Wage protects workers from falling too far into poverty, it does not guarantee a decent standard of living.”

It stated: “The Living Wage is currently set at £8.30 in London and £7.20 in the rest of the country.”

On 9 February, BBC’s Newsnight programme carried a report in which a woman employed by a supermarket chain store revealed she was in rent arrears despite working and receiving benefits.

The night-shift shelf-stacker told the reporter she could not imagine being able to survive on her low income with the additional responsibility of having children to feed and clothe.

Unsurprisingly, research undertaken by the Save the Children and Daycare Trust charities last year revealed low-income families were having to turn down jobs or were considering leaving work because they could not afford to pay for childcare.

The situation has clearly worsened since then given the shocking results of a survey carried out by parenting website Netmums, which revealed some parents are now turning to loan sharks to keep their families afloat.

Of the 2,000 mothers who took part in the website’s survey, a staggering 70% were teetering “on the edge” of financial disaster; 61% were short of money on a weekly basis and 20% were eating less in order to conserve money for the maintenance of their children.

In this context, Joanne Mallon, author of Toddlers: An Instruction Manual: A Guide to Surviving the Years One to Four, is now calling for childcare to be viewed as a joint enterprise rather than the sole responsibility of women.

She said: “As a mother I would absolutely go without whatever I needed to, to make sure my children have what they need, without a second thought.

“Both mothers and fathers benefit from being able to work whilst their child is in childcare, so both should contribute towards this expense.

“But very often this doesn’t happen, and mothers are left financially worse off as a result.”

In the same vain, the European Federation of Public Service Union (EPSU) has warned of a “roll back” in the strive for equal wages, if governments do not take into account that women are disproportionately affected by major cuts in the public sector.

Under these circumstances, I am inclined to agree with Gloria Mills, the Chairwoman of EPSU’s women and gender equality committee, who stated: “Equality on all fronts is a mark of a united and civilised society – it is not just for times of economic prosperity.”


Euro zone crisis: Whose fault is it?

I find it rather predictable that nobody wants to own up to the mistakes that were clearly made over the euro.

Seasoned crews furnished with the responsibility for keeping it afloat and steering it through choppy waters have been squabbling among themselves since it ran aground.

This weekend the ex-president of the European Commission Jacques Delors waded into the fray.

Margaret Thatcher’s former sparring partner – remember the famous “the lady’s not for turning” speech at the Conservative Party Conference in 1980 – believes flawed “execution” is to blame for the crisis which could see the beleaguered single currency off in a few days time.

The chief architect of the European Union told The Telegraph newspaper that “everyone must examine their consciences” before referring to “a combination of the stubbornness of the Germanic idea of monetary control and the absence of a clear vision from all the other countries”.

The Economist was less diplomatic in its euro zone analysis piece, Is this really the end?

The magazine pointed the finger at “pigheaded brinkmanship”.Rather tellingly, when asked about the part his country played in the run-up to the current crisis, Mr Delors – who reigned as president from 1985 to 1995 – declined to comment.

Berlusconi’s ‘lifestyle’ makes headlines again

I was sitting in Starbucks with an “extra hot” grande cappuccino. I know, such a cliche. 

I thought dragging myself away from my laptop and changing my environment might spark the inspiration I needed to complete a chapter of my novella that has proved problematic in recent weeks.

Sadly, it did not. Instead, I became distracted by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The colourful premier is back in the news again not only because of his plan to target Italy’s tax evaders to claw back some much-needed cash, according to the Wall Street Journal, but also because of his alleged lascivious escapades.

The Telegraph reports that the 74-year-old has been described as being “only concerned with sex and nothing else”.

This latest revelation came after a transcript from a telephone conversation between a newspaper editor and the wife of a businessman was leaked.

I couldn’t help sniggering to myself causing a couple sitting opposite to look over at me quizzically.

In January this year, The Guardian published an article in which a famous Italian male porn star praised Mr Berlusconi’s lifestyle.

How does he manage to run a country now in the grip of harsh austerity measures while being at the centre of sex scandals?

I doubt an English prime minister would be able to weather such a storm.

Society goes up in smoke in England riots

As I sat down to write this post, two 30-something men walked past my window.

I caught the tail end of their animated conversation. “Look at the riots,” one of them exclaimed. “It just goes to show we have the power not the government.”

I disagree. An orgy of looting and violence is not just “sheer criminality” it is the action of the powerless.

Ingredients for a riot: take a huge dollop of frustration, add an unstable economy and high unemployment, along with an even bigger dollop of desperation. Then spoon in some rage and bake in the searing heat.

Many people not just in the UK but around the globe will easily separate themselves from the rioters/criminals.

And, of course, they can. They are law abiding citizens, they are educated, they are employed and take home an income which allows them to indulge in the finer things in life.

Yes, they are far removed from these so-called “animals” and “feral rats”.

But if we pause and really think about what one young woman in Birmingham told a news channel it becomes harder to dismiss these people as “just opportunist thugs”.

Asked how she perceived her local police force, she responded: “They don’t respect me so I don’t respect them.”

Respect is fundamental for a human being.

When a person is respected he or she possesses the power to influence people and shape his or her own destiny.

For some people in our society basic respect is automatic for others life is not so straightforward.

These people are invisible and become visible only when they act outside of the law.

The mindless violence and criminal damage which has swept across Britain is inexcusable.

It has already claimed a life – a 26-year-old man was shot in his car last night – and left many families homeless. Shop owners have witnessed their livelihoods going up in flames.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said every perpetrator will quite rightly feel the full force of the law.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Michael Gove has blamed the riots on “tribal allegiances and gangs”.

Real change comes with addressing the cause not just the effect.

Columnist Mary Riddell wrote in the Telegraph (London riots: the underclass lashes out):

Today, Britain is less equal, in wages, wealth and life chances, than at any time since then. Last year alone, the combined fortunes of the 1,000 richest people in Britain rose by 30 per cent to £333.5 billion.”

Tonight a police station in Nottingham was firebombed.

Can this country really afford to continue to have a huge section of society which is rudderless, disaffected and roaming the streets?

Obama’s Re-Election Bid takes a knock

What a difference a day makes.

I know, I know, it’s a cliché but it is actually true in this case.

When I wrote in my last post about the Republican leaders attempts to give President Barack Obama a bloody nose, I should have peered over their shoulders.

If I had stretched a little, I would have seen Standard & Poor hovering behind them.

The move by S&P to drop U.S. government debt from AAA to AA+ has dealt President Obama’s re-election hopes such a hefty blow.

I am sure would-be presidential hopefuls must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Debt Crisis ‘blues’

More economic doom and gloom. Somebody, please wake me up from this nightmare.

I had hoped there would be a decent pause so we could all catch our breath after the Republican leaders did their very best to give President Obama a bloody nose.

Paul Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, did not pull any punches in his Wall Street Journal article: Where’s Your Budget, Mr. President?

In it, he claimed the president had not “put forward a credible plan to tackle the threat of ever-rising spending and debt”.

He also asserted that “Congress still hasn’t dealt with the drivers of our debt—primarily federal spending on health care”.

I knew there would be an eleventh-hour deal before the Tuesday deadline.

After all, there are scoring political points and scoring political points.

The shenanigans that went on before an agreement was reached were, as one US citizen told Channel 4‘s Sarah Smith, just “stupid”.

Today, The Telegraph reported the FTSE 100 “suffered a 3.43pc fall, its biggest since the height of the banking crisis in March 2009”.

It also revealed that “in the past five days, investors have lost a total of £125bn”.

One can’t but help feel overwhelming powerlessness by what is happening because there isn’t a panacea.

Politicians and financial experts can pontificate all they want but I am yet to hear something that sounds remotely like a concrete plan to get us all out of this mess.

And, of course, it is always the people who do not earn those incredible salaries attached to even more incredible bonuses who suffer.