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. If you want to find out about the Government’s work on gender pay gap reporting go to the page on gender pay gap reporting.

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

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 on the gender pay gap is primarily focused on the private sector and is led by the Government Equalities Office , which sits within the Department for International Development.

You can find a full list of Government Equalities Office papers on the gender pay gap here.

The Government Equalities Office takes the lead on Gender Pay Gap Reporting (any queries about the regulations should be addressed to them) and has recently published guidance on effective actions to close the gender pay gap. You can find the guidance here.

The Government Equalities Office is also working with employers to build more evidence on what works. If you represent an organisation with 4000 or more employees in the UK and would like to partner with the Office, you can get in touch with the Gender and Behavioural Insights programme [email protected] .

Parliamentary Inquiries

Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry 2015

In March 2016 the Women and Equalities Committee published the Report of its inquiry into the gender pay gap. The Committee noted that as long as women continue to take the majority of responsibility for childcare and other forms of unpaid caring, pay differentials will persist and that women who wish to return to work after a break are not being supported to do so. The Committee emphasised that eliminating the gender pay gap is too important to leave to chance, and 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

 Treasury Committee Inquiry into Women in Finance 2018

The Treasury Committee has published a unanimously-agreed report calling for the reform of bonus negotiations and promotion of flexible working to abolish the ‘alpha-male’ culture in finance and encourage the progression of women to senior levels.

The Committee’s key recommendations are:

  • Assess bonuses against clear criteria to abolish ‘alpha-male’ culture
  • Remove stigma of flexible working by senior men leading by example
  • Encourage firms to publish strategies for closing gender pay gaps
  • Partners and subsidiaries should not be exempt from gender pay gap reporting
  • Firms should re-examine recruitment and promotion policies to eliminate unconscious bias, which will avoid potential applicants being deterred and avoid groupthink

You can find the report and a summary here.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee Inquiry 2018

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has recently concluded an inquiry on executive pay and the gender-pay gap reporting in the private sector.

For more on this go to Gender Pay Gap Reporting 


A Single Enforcement Body?

The Government is currently consulting on the creation of a new single labour market enforcement body, whose remit would include discrimination. The issues are complex, and the consultation document bears reading in full; equal pay is not specifically mentioned, but the document is interested in exploring whether there are gaps in the existing enforcement tools available to the EHRC, and whether a new single Enforcement Body would provide a route to address these gaps. The document also looks at the enforcement of Employment tribunal awards and seeks views on what role the new body should have in relation to unpaid awards. The closing date for consultation is 6 October 2019.

You can find the consultation document here.

Last updated 30th July 2019