London has become the worst region of the UK for pay equality, having been the best 20 years ago, new analysis by the Office for National Statistics reveals.
The research, shared exclusively with BuzzFeed News, shows London has made almost no progress on cutting its gender pay gap since 1997, while other regions have markedly closed their gender divide – meaning London now has the largest pay disparity within the UK.
In 1997 women working full-time in London earned 15.1% less than their male counterparts, but in 2017 this gap had barely closed to just 14.6% – markedly less progress than other regions and nations within the UK.
"The gender pay gap compares average earnings of all working women in a region with those of all working men in the same region. It's impacted by numerous things," ONS statistician Roger Smith told BuzzFeed News.
"One of the most important is types of occupation held by men and women. In places like Scotland and Wales there's been some increase in [the] proportion of women working in higher paid occupations such as managers and directors – this will have helped close the gender pay gap – whereas in London an increasing proportion of women are filling lower-paid jobs like sales and elementary occupations."
Northern Ireland is the only area of the UK where women working full-time earn more than men, with the average Northern Irish woman making 3.4% more than her male equivalent. Women in Northern Ireland have earned more than men since 2010, the figures show.
The ONS analysis also reveals a new divide in the pay gap in the public sector versus the private sector. For full-time workers the pay gap remains smaller for public sector workers than in the private sector, but while the public sector has made virtually no progress over the last two decades, the gap has closed in the private sector.
For part-time workers, the trend is even more marked: Part-time female workers in the public sector were paid 6.1% less than men in 1997, but by 2017 that had leapt to 22.3%.
This is the opposite to the trend in the private sector, where in 1997 part-time women were paid 2.2% less than men, but by 2017 this had reversed entirely, with women working part-time in the private sector making 2.6% more than men.
The figures also revealed a strong difference in the pay gap for women of different ages. While all age groups have seen a strong improvement in the size of the pay gap over the last 20 years, the pay gap is still far bigger for women in their forties than for younger women.
However, for women in their forties working part-time – a group that includes many women returning to the workforce after taking a break to raise children – the gender pay gap has shrunk significantly, which the ONS credits to policies aimed at supporting such workers.
"The gap has decreased dramatically for older women working part-time, with pay levels being virtually indistinguishable for older women compared with their younger counterparts," the ONS analysis states. "This follows a number of UK government and European Union policies aimed at encouraging these women back into the labour market and at an equal pay level with men."