Gender pay gap widening, ONS finds
The gender pay gap has widened for the first time in five years, reversing a period of "steady progress" on closing the wage difference between men and women, new figures have shown.
The difference based on median hourly earnings for full-time workers increased from 9.5% last year to 10%, but for all employees, including part-timers, the figure rose from 19.6% to 19.7%, said the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It was the first time the figures have increased since 2008, according to the ONS.
The TUC said its analysis of the data based on mean, or average, figures showed that the gender pay gap was 15.7%.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Years of a slow, steady progress on closing the gender pay gap has gone into reverse. Ministers should be ashamed of presiding over this latest dismal record on pay.
"It is not right that in Britain today women still earn 15% less per hour than men, a pay gap that costs full-time women over £5,000 a year.
"The light-touch, voluntary approach to tackling gender pay inequality is clearly failing. We need tougher action to force companies to look at their pay gaps, while government can lead the way by making all new jobs available on a part-time or flexible basis."
The figures showed that median annual earnings for full-time employees were £27,000 in the year to April, an increase of 2.1% from the previous year.
A tenth of full-time workers earned less than £7.28 an hour, while 10% earned more than £27 an hour, both figures increasing by 1.5% over the year.
Weekly pay was highest in London at £658, and lowest in Northern Ireland at £460.
Full-time pay for men increased by 1.8% to £556 a week and went up by 2.2% for women to £459.
Median weekly pay for all workers, full and part-time, was £417, an increase of 2.6%.
Dr John Philpott, director of The Jobs Economist, said: "A particularly puzzling feature of the findings is that they show growth in median weekly pay across the UK regions between 2012 and 2013 to be a mirror image of regional unemployment rates, with unemployment hot spots registering the biggest pay rises.
"For example, the North East (3.5%) and West Midlands (3.3%) and Wales (4.4%) saw much stronger pay growth than regions with less unemployment, with the South East registering no pay growth at all.
"While the reasons for this require much closer examination - and remember pay levels are higher in low unemployment regions - the much commented upon post-recession tendency for workers to 'price themselves into jobs' does not therefore appear to be evident for all regions in these data."
The TUC said the real value of the average full-time wage fell by more than £200 over the last year, and by nearly £2,000 since 2010.
The biggest cash reduction was in London with a fall of £2,825 in the real value of the average full-time wage since 2010 and the biggest percentage fall was in the South East with a 7.8% fall over the past three years.
Ms O'Grady said: "This is what a cost of living crisis looks like, not a recovery, and with people on low to medium wages spending more on basics like energy, fuel and housing, the crisis is even worse for ordinary people.
"When the Government claims that living standards are rising, or that ministers are riding to the rescue by claiming they will take £50 off energy bills, we need to tell them loud and clear that people need £2,000 just to catch up with what they have lost since this Government came to power, let alone from the start of the recession. Britain most definitely needs a pay rise."
Charlie Woodworth of the Fawcett Society said: "News that the gap has begun to widen, after years of slow but steady progress, is a damming indictment of the Government's record when it comes to women's standing in the economy.
"Women's incomes are being squeezed on all sides - cuts to benefits are hitting them hardest, cuts to the public sector workforce are affecting them disproportionately, and we now know they face a widening gender pay gap.
"These figures must act as a wake-up call for the Government. Women's position in the labour market and their wider financial security are at grave risk.
"More must be done to tackle occupational segregation - women continue to be shockingly under-represented in better paid industries such as science and technology."
Chancellor George Osborne said it was "interesting" that the ONS figures showed the increase in average earnings keeping pace with inflation.
He told the Commons Treasury Committee: "It shows that median gross weekly earnings are increasing at 2.2%. That is, of course, the current rate of inflation.
"So I think that points to the broader argument that I have been making, which is that as the economy recovers, that is the route to a sustained increase in the living standards of the people who live in that economy, and you can't pretend that the two aren't connected, that you can have a living standards plan without an economy plan."
Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller said: "The gender pay gap has narrowed significantly in recent years - 10 years ago it was at 25% - and women's salaries are rising.
"The workplace was designed by men for men and this Government is committed to modernising it. There are now record numbers of women in work and we are transforming the workplace by extending the right to request flexible working to all employees from 2104, and introducing a system of shared parental leave from 2015 so that women don't have to choose between work and a family life.
"Transparency will play a key role in achieving this and we now have over 140 major UK employers , covering two million people, signed up to our Think, Act, Report campaign to improve gender equality in their workplace. But the cultural shift that is needed won't happen unless employers work with Government to remove the barriers that hold women back and ensure that every woman can fulfil their full potential."
Catherine McKinnell, shadow economic secretary to the Treasury, said: "These figures show that prices are still rising faster than wages and the cost-of-living crisis under David Cameron continues. Between 2010 and 2013 gross median wages have fallen by over £1,600 a year in real terms.
"After three damaging years of flatlining, working people are worse off under the Tories. But the Autumn Statement failed to set out a serious plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and earn our way to higher living standards for the many and not just a few.
"Labour would freeze energy bills until 2017 while we reform the energy market, make work pay by expanding free childcare for working parents and get at least 200,000 homes built a year by 2020."