How has the gender pay gap changed under the Conservatives?

16 October 2023
What was claimed

The Conservatives allowed the gender pay gap to rise.

Our verdict

Ms Dodds hasn’t explained what this claim is based on. Office for National Statistics data shows both the overall gender pay gap and gap among full-time workers have fallen since the Conservatives took office in 2010, and also since 2015 and 2019. There has been a rise in the gap among full-time workers since 2020, though there’s some uncertainty over this data due to the pandemic. Other figures show a slight rise in the gap at larger employers since 2017, but this data doesn’t cover smaller employers as the ONS figures do.

During her speech at Labour’s National Annual Women’s Conference on 7 October, shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds MP criticised the Conservative government’s record on equal pay, saying: “Who allowed the gender pay gap to rise? The Tories did.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the gender pay gap is the difference between the median hourly earnings of men and women as a proportion of men’s median hourly earnings, excluding overtime, measured across all jobs in the UK (that is, it does not show the difference in pay between men and women for doing the same job).

We contacted Ms Dodds to ask her what data her claim was based on and what time period it referred to, but have not received a response. 

ONS data shows both the overall gender pay gap and the gap among full-time workers has fallen since the Conservatives took office as part of the Coalition Government in 2010. Both have also fallen since 2015, when the Conservatives formed a majority government, and since 2019, when the party won the most recent general election.

It’s not clear from Ms Dodds’ speech what time period she was referring to, but earlier this year she claimed the gender pay gap had increased by 12% since 2020. We don’t know what that claim was based on either—the ONS says the gap among full-time workers has increased by around 18% since 2020. 

If this was what Ms Dodds was referring to in her conference speech, it’s worth noting the ONS has cautioned that its 2020 and 2021 figures are subject to more uncertainty than usual due to the pandemic.

Separate data on the gender pay gap at larger organisations with 250 or more employees does show a slight increase since it was first collected in 2017. These figures only cover larger employers however, while the ONS data covers employers of all sizes.

MPs should ensure they back up their claims with evidence, use official statistics transparently and with all relevant context and caveats, and quickly rectify oversights when they occur. Selective use of statistics without appropriate context and caveats can damage public trust in both official information and politicians. 

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The overall gender pay gap has fallen since 2010

The overall gender pay gap, which includes both full-time and part-time workers, has decreased by around a quarter since 2010, according to the ONS.

In 2010, the gender pay gap was 19.8% (meaning women on average earned 19.8% less than men), compared to 14.9% in 2022, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves referred to this figure in her speech at the Labour party conference last Monday, saying: “Still, half a century after the Equal Pay Act, women in Britain earn on average 15% less than men.”

The overall gap has also fallen since 2015, when it was 19.3%, and since 2019, when it was 17.4%. It has risen year-on-year at some points during the Conservative party’s time in government—however the ONS notes that when looking at this data users should “focus on long-term trends rather than year-on-year changes”.

Full-time workers

Looking at the ONS data for full-time workers, the gender pay gap is lower.

In 2010, full-time female workers earned on average 10.1% less than men, compared to 8.3% in 2022. (The gap for full-time workers has also narrowed since 2015, when it was 9.6%, and since 2019, when it was 9%.)

Since 2020 the gap for full-time workers has increased by 1.3 percentage points however, and it’s possible this is what Ms Dodds was referring to in her speech.

Of this increase, the ONS says: “In 2022, the gap among full-time employees increased to 8.3%, up from 7.7% in 2021. This is still below the gap of 9.0% before the coronavirus pandemic in 2019. Estimates for 2020 and 2021 are subject to more uncertainty than usual therefore we recommend looking at the longer-term trend.”

There has also been a rise in the gender pay gap since 2010 among certain age groups of full-time workers, though not overall. ONS data for full-time workers shows among 22-29 year-olds, it rose from -1.8% in 2010 to 2.1% in 2022, while among 30-39 year-olds it rose from 2.7% to 3.2% and among over-60s from 9.1% to 13.9%. The differing impact of the gender pay gap on different age groups was highlighted in research commissioned by Ms Dodds earlier this year. 

Part-time workers

ONS figures show that since 1998, female part-time workers have on average earned more than male part-time workers.

In 2010 women part-time workers earned on average 4.3% more than men. This gap widened to 6.8% by 2015, but has been narrowing in recent years, and was 3.5% in 2019 and 2.8% in 2022.

The ONS says: “The gender pay gap is higher for all employees than it is for full-time employees or part-time employees. This is because women fill more part-time jobs, which in comparison with full-time jobs have lower hourly median pay.”

Other gender pay gap data

Since 2017 all employers in the UK with 250 or more employees have been required by law to report their gender pay gap data each year.

This data only covers larger employers, and so offers a different picture to the ONS data.

According to analysis by the Financial Times, the gender pay gap at larger employers has seen little change over the last six years.

Its analysis found that in 2022/23 the average gap (that is, a mean average of the median pay gap data reported by employers) remained unchanged compared to the previous year, at 12.2%—so slightly lower than the overall pay gap reported by the ONS.

This is a slight increase compared to 2017/18, when companies were first required to report and the data showed an average gender pay gap of 11.9%.

The average gender pay gap among large companies had increased to 12.8% by 2019/18, before falling again over the past three years.

Image courtesy of Sigmund

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After we published this fact check, we contacted Anneliese Dodds to ask her to clarify what data and time period she was referring to. 

Anneliese Dodds did not respond.

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