In this section you will find information about what the Government is doing to close the gender pay gap.  If you live in Wales or Scotland, where there are some additional things you need to know, you should also look at the relevant pages.

The legislative framework

The Equality Act 2010 gives women (and men) a right to equal pay for equal work. It replaces previous legislation, including the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and the equality provisions of the Pensions Act 1995.  The terms of the Equality Act 2010 relating to equal pay are known as the ‘equality of terms provisions’.

For more on the legislative framework go to The Law

Gender pay gap reporting

The Government is in the process of legislating to require all organisations employing 250 or more employees to measure and report on their gender pay gaps. For more information on this, go to Gender Pay Gap Reporting.

The Public Sector Equality Duty

The general duty

Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 provides for the general public sector equality duty (the equality duty). The duty requires public authorities to have due regard to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act 2010;
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people from different groups; and
  • Foster good relations between people from different groups.

 Quick start guide to the public sector equality duty  has been issued by the Government Equalities Office.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is responsible for assessing compliance with and enforcing the equality duty. The Commission has powers to issue compliance notices to public bodies that have failed to comply and can apply to the courts for an order requiring compliance. The Equality Duty can also be enforced by judicial review. This can be done by the Commission or any individual or group of people with an interest.

The general duty covers all the protected characteristics including sex, and in principle therefore covers equal pay between women and men. The general duty applies to public bodies listed in Schedule 19 of the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. schools, further and higher education bodies, local authorities, police, fire and transport authorities, and government departments) and to public, private, or voluntary organisations carrying out public functions, including acting on behalf of a public authority. It applies across the whole of Britain.

 The specific duties

The general duty is underpinned by a number of specific duties, set out in secondary legislation. The duties set out specific requirements to help public authorities meet the aims of the general duty. Most public bodies subject to the general duty are also subject to the specific duties. While the general duty applies to England, Scotland and Wales, the specific duties are devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Assembly Governments, and this results in differences across the three nations in the obligations on public bodies in respect of equal pay. In particular, public bodies in Scotland and Wales must consider pay gaps across all of the protected groups and not just between women and men.

For equal pay and public bodies in Wales, click here.

For equal pay and public bodies in Scotland, click here.

Equal pay and public bodies in England

In England the specific duties were created by the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011. English public authorities are required to set equality objectives and publish equality information, but are not required to take specific action on the gender pay gap.

However, for listed authorities with 150 or more employees there is a specific requirement to publish information relating to the protected characteristics of the authority’s employees. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s technical guidance states that:

“To demonstrate compliance, listed authorities should aim to be transparent about the sufficiency of their information.

With this aim in mind, the types of information that they could publish include:

  • The profile of staff at different grades, levels and rates of pay, including any patterns of occupational segregation and part-time work.
  • The profile of staff at different stages of the employment relationship, including recruitment, training, promotion, and leavers, and the numbers of complaints of discrimination and other prohibited conduct.
  • Details of, and feedback from, any engagement exercises with staff or trade unions.
  • Any records of how it has had due regard in making workforce decisions, including any assessments of impact undertaken and the evidence used.”

The Commission has produced Technical Guidance to explain the general and specific duties and provide practical approaches to complying with the Public Sector Equality Duty. The Commission states that the guidance provides an authoritative, comprehensive and technical guide to the detail of the law.

Technical Guidance on the Public Sector Equality Duty England (Word)


The Government Equalities Office

In England the Government’s strategy is focused on the private sector and is led by the Government Equalities Office , which sits within the Department for Education. The Government Equalities Office works across government, and leads on issues relating to women, including equal pay.

Think, Act Report – voluntary gender equality reporting

The Government’s Think, Act, Report framework  sets out the principles that business, unions, voluntary sector and other partners have agreed upon in order to encourage a new voluntary approach to gender equality reporting, and suggests measures that employers might adopt. The voluntary approach is as much concerned with promoting gender equality as with closing the gender pay gap and is mainly focused on workplace equality measures, rather than actions to promote equal pay.  Acas has produced guidance to help employers implement the measures.

The Voluntary Gender Equality Reporting Baseline Report 2011 revealed that 43 per cent of large employers had carried out some form of analysis of their gender pay gap. However, fewer employers reported publicly on gender equality measures; about 7 per cent of large employers report externally on gender diversity in their organisation (for example, the gender composition of their workforce) and only 1.3 per cent of large employers reported their gender pay gap externally, and 3.7 per cent reporting to their own staff

A follow up report, Think, Act Report, Two Years On  showed that 48 per cent of the companies signed up to the initiative reported that they had carried out an equal pay audit. The report notes that this is a significant finding which shows that companies are starting to take the issue of equal pay seriously.  As of November 2013, 137 companies had signed up to the initiative, employing some 1,900,000 employees.

Think, Act, Report, Three Years On showed that 260 companies, with a combined total of 2.5 million employees had signed up, including Marks and Spencer, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and Glaxo SmithKline. For a more thorough analysis of what companies signed up to Think, Act, Report were doing to tackle the gender pay gap, read ‘Think, Act, Report, innovation or duplication?’ in the October 2014 edition of Equal Opportunities Review.

NB Employers should note that adoption of Think, Act, Report’s  suggested pay measures would not provide an employer with a defence against an equal pay claim, nor do the measures meet the definition of an equal pay audit as set out in the Code of Practice on Equal Pay.

The lack of progress evident from Think, Act, Report in persuading the private sector to adopt a voluntary approach to tackling the gender pay gap has led the Government to introduce regulations on Gender Pay Gap Reporting, and these are expected to come into effect late in 2016.

Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry

In November 2015 the Women and Equalities Committee announced an inquiry into the gender pay gap: Are Government measures to reduce the gender pay gap failing women over 40? The inquiry focused on women aged over 40, for, while younger women, aged from 18-39, in full-time work experience a very low or even reversed gender pay gap, ONS data shows the gap for hourly earnings growing from the age of 40 onwards. It is greatest for women in their 50s, with women over 50 working full-time earning 82 per cent of what men of the same age working full-time earn. Some of this discrepancy is down to occupational segregation. At present, two-thirds of women aged over 50 are employed in just three sectors: education, health and retail.

The Committee’s Report

The Committee published its Report on the 2nd March 2016. The Committee said:

“The UK’s gender pay gap of 19.2 per cent represents a significant loss to productivity. Women are better educated and better qualified than ever before, yet their skills are not being fully utilised. Women over 40 are most affected. For those aged between 50 and 59 the gender pay gap currently stands at 27.3 per cent. Yet the Government does not have a coherent strategy to address the issues underlying this gap and ensure younger women do not encounter the same difficulties as they age.

A large part of the gender pay gap is down to women’s concentration in part-time work. Many women are trapped in low paid, part-time work that doesn’t make use of their skills. This is partly due to women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring, but also because many of the sectors women work in, like retail and care, offer predominantly low-paid, part-time work. . . . . The Government recognises the value of modernising the workplace, but is still not taking the steps needed to ensure flexible working is offered to all employees, particularly those in lower paid sectors. Moving to a culture where flexibility is the norm, and employees are judged on outcomes rather than presenteeism, offers a tremendous opportunity to tackle the gender pay gap.

However, as long as women continue to take the majority of responsibility for childcare and other forms of unpaid caring, pay differentials will persist. . . . The Government has lofty ambitions to eliminate the pay gap in a generation. Yet we have found a lack of effective Government policy in many of the areas that contribute to the gap. Reporting regulations do not go far enough to make a real difference. Women who wish to return to work after a break are not being supported to do so—even in areas like teaching where staff shortages are well documented. Aside from increasing the National Minimum Wage, there has been no co-ordinated attempt to address the issues faced by the many women working in low paid sectors. Time after time Ministers responded to our questions by saying change would occur eventually, or through the actions of individual employers.

Eliminating the gender pay gap is too important to leave to chance. It is not enough to hope that culture changes of its own accord. Or that individual employers recognise the benefits of flexible working and attracting women returners to the workplace. Government must take a lead on these issues now.”

The Committee has called on the Government to match the scope of their ambition in eliminating the gender pay gap with effective action to:

  • Make all jobs flexible by default from the outset unless there is a strong and continuing business case for them not to be
  • Bring in non-transferrable leave for fathers and second parents to allow men and women to share care more equally
  • Establish industrial strategies for low paid, highly feminised sectors to improve productivity and pay levels
  • Create a National Pathways to Work scheme that will support women to return to employment after time out of the labour market

You can read the full report here

All of the written submissions to this inquiry are now up on the parliamentary website. You can find them here.

Last updated 31st October 2016