Women should be given the “right to know” what a male colleague doing the same work is paid and vice versa, Keir Starmer has said.
It comes after the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that mothers are one-and-a-half times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit since the lockdown began.
Separate research from poverty charity Turn2Us found women’s incomes are falling more steeply than men’s during the crisis, with the mean gender pay gap widening by £62.
Starmer said it was now necessary to back the Fawcett Society’s campaign to give women the right to know what a male colleague doing the same job is paid to bring equality law up to date.
On the 50th anniversary of the equal pay act, Starmer told HuffPost UK: “The equal pay act was a historic achievement that showed the impact Labour can make in power.
“But half a century later, progress is stalling. Coronavirus threatens to set us back years in the fight for pay equality.
“We must come out of this pandemic with the commitment to build a better future.
“That means strengthening the Equal Pay Act and monitoring how this crisis is impacting on women.”
The IFS study also found that women in families where both parents work are spending more of their working day simultaneously trying to care for their children compared to their partners.
They’re also more likely to have quit or lost their job, or to have been furloughed, since the start of the coronavirus lockdown.
A sharp reduction in the time that mothers are spending dedicated to work amid the crisis could harm their careers and further increase the gender wage gap when lockdown is lifted, researchers warned.
In an article for HuffPost UK, the Fawcett Society and other charities seized on Boris Johnson’s commitment to do “whatever it takes to help get women back into work” and insistence that “childcare is absolutely critical for the success of our economy” in comments to the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday.
In an open letter to Johnson, they warned that “maternal employment will not recover to pre-crisis levels without a significant and strategic investment in our childcare infrastructure”.
“We urge you to prioritise funding for childcare in both the short and medium-term by providing a substantial injection of funding at local level now, as the lockdown is easing, so that childcare providers can safely play their part in supporting the economic recovery,” the charities said.
“But more significantly, we urge you to make investment in our childcare infrastructure integral to your programme for renewal going forward.
“Evidence shows that by investing in a care economy we can grow our
way out of this recession because there is an economic return on that investment. It pays for itself.”
Shadow women and equalities minister Marsha de Cordova said the government’s coronavirus recovery strategy must take into account the pandemic’s particular impact on women or risk further entrenching unequal pay.
“Today marks 50 years since Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay act became law,” she said.
“It was inspired by the demand of women of the Ford factories in Dagenham and Liverpool for equal pay for equal work. Yet, even now, women are still getting a rough deal.
“Labour has long warned that the UK is slipping behind on pay equality.
“But the coronavirus crisis now looks set to further exploit those weaknesses by turning the clock back on pay equality.
“As we emerge from this crisis, it’s clear government needs to act in women’s interests.
“Government must ensure any coronavirus recovery plan comes with a full impact assessment that ensures it doesn’t exacerbate the gender pay gap.
“And it’s why we are calling on them to give women the right to know if they are being paid less than the man sat opposite them doing the same job.”
In December, before the pandemic took hold, the UK had already slipped down the World Economic Forum’s global gender equality ranking from 15th to 21st – one place below Albania.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.