Official figures show the gender pay gap falling to its lowest level since the measurement was launched in 1997.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the gap – based on median hourly earnings for full-time employees – fell from 9.4% in 2016 to 9.1% by April.
The survey’s finding was largely welcomed amid efforts to identify large employers failing to make progress in tackling pay disparities and a number of high-profile disputes, particularly at the BBC.
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News of the progress was released alongside further data highlighting the squeeze on pay values as wage growth lags inflation.
The ONS said that full-time workers’ weekly earnings had fallen in real terms – that is when wages are adjusted for the effects of inflation – for the first time since 2014.
It is mostly a consequence of Brexit jitters in the economy with the effects of the National Living Wage helping offset some of the pressure for those who qualify.
Inflation has shot up this year to a rate of 3% currently.
Costs have risen because the weaker pound since the EU referendum has made imported goods more expensive – with many of these extra costs being passed on to consumers and businesses.
Pay awards have failed to keep pace as companies remain reluctant to invest, with Brexit uncertainty adding to their caution.
The Government’s austerity programme has held back earnings in the public sector.
Stephen Clarke, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said: “Today’s release confirms what we already knew about the return of the pay squeeze in 2017.
“The failure of nominal wage growth to match increases in inflation has left real weekly earnings down on the year for the first time since 2014.
“The silver lining is good progress for lower-paid people, with the national living wage helping to boost pay packets.
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“Because more women are low paid they have disproportionately benefited from this boost, with the full-time gender pay gap ticking down once again to its lowest level since the survey began two decades ago.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady wants to see more progress on equality.
She said: “The full-time gender pay gap has inched a bit smaller but there is still a chasm between men and women’s earnings.
“At this rate it’ll take decades for women to get paid the same as men.
“The Government needs to crank up the pressure on employers.
“Companies shouldn’t just be made to publish their gender pay gaps.
“They should be forced to explain how they’ll close them and those bosses who flout the law should be fined.”
Source: Sky News