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09 November 2018

Does the absence of fairly priced part-time season tickets contribute to the gender pay gap?

3 mins

Tomorrow is Equal Pay Day; the day dedicated to raising awareness of the gender pay gap. The date symbolizes the point in the year when women ‘stop earning’ relative to men.

There are many reasons why women’s pay is on average less than that earned by men. One of them is childcare responsibilities, which still fall disproportionately to women. New research was reported this week which shows that women living in every region of the UK (apart from London) are more likely than men to live within a 15 minute commute to their work, in particular in the first decade after having children. Conversely, men are far more likely than women to have long commutes to work. This difference in commuting times has been termed “the gender commuting gap”. 

We already know that women are disproportionately likely to work part-time compared with men (statistics quoted by last year’s Taylor Review showed that 41.4% of women work part-time vs only 13.3% of men), and 2017 European Commission (Eurostat) data showed that the probability of working full-time drops markedly among women with children, compared to women without children (whilst the opposite is true of men). This effect was found to be particularly strong in the UK, along with a handful of other European countries. Also, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2016 confirmed that part-time workers earn less than their full-time colleagues at each level of qualification. Indeed, the Taylor Review cited lower median hourly rates for part-time workers were as one of the root causes of the gender pay gap. 

Anecdotally, we are aware that many women who worked and commuted full-time before having children find it extremely difficult to continue with their previous jobs on a part-time basis once they have returned from maternity leave. A key driver of this difficulty is the cost of their commute, which will often cancel out the added financial benefit of returning to their previous job as opposed to finding alternative work locally. 

The fares system in England and Wales is based on an outdated model of 9-5 commuting which does not cater to modern working practices, with traditional full-time commuters who use the railway more frequently and when services are at their most stretched, receiving discounts on the cost of their commute as well as other rewards such as free travel at weekends, automatic compensation for delays and price locks on future travel. The season ticket model is premised on full-time commuting and there is no fairly priced alternative so often the only option for part-time workers is full priced daily return fares which can work out to twice or three times the price paid by season ticket holders per journey. Therefore, the discounts and benefits offered to full-time workers are at least in part subsidised by part-time workers, thereby exacerbating the problem of pay disparity between the two groups.  

This unfairness must change. Whilst the Government has acknowledged the problem and has repeatedly promised to tackle it there has been no meaningful progress towards making the necessary changes. So is now the time for women to take action in the courts? Exciting plans are underway. Contact Salima Budhani for information.

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