Cabinet Office pay gap growth ‘incredibly disappointing’, gender champion says

End to DVLA flexible working sees DfT lose ground on pay gap too
Gender pay gap. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

28 Nov 2022

The widening of the gender pay gap at the Cabinet Office this year is “incredibly disappointing”, the department’s gender champion has said.

The median gender pay gap has grown by 6.8% to 16.6% and is the highest it has been since legislation was introduced by the government in 2017 that made annual reports on gender pay gaps mandatory.

"The increase in both the mean and median pay gap by 1.5% and 6.8% respectively since last year is incredibly disappointing,” Elizabeth Gardiner, the Cabinet Office gender champion, said.

“Women are underrepresented in the more senior grades, with a decrease in representation in comparison to last year. There is clearly much work to be done.”

Across the civil service, the gender pay gap widened this year for the first time in six years, with average hourly earnings among male civil servants 11.3% higher than those of female officials.

The Cabinet Office has the fifth highest gender pay gap, behind the Health and Safety Executive, UK Export Finance, the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland and HM Treasury.

In most cases where there are large median pay gaps, it is due to a higher proportion of men being in senior – and higher paid – roles, and greater numbers of women in more junior roles.

This is one of the key reasons for the gap, Cabinet Office analysis of the figures found.

There continues to be a higher percentage of female staff in the middle to junior grades and less representation at more senior levels. Female representation in the more senior grades has also fallen, with SCS1, 2 and 3 grades all having a lower percentage of women this year than in 2021. And within the senior civil service grades, average female salaries are lower: £88,918 for men compared to £95,136 for women.

Another issue the Cabinet Office found is that higher starting salaries skew in favour of men. The department said this is largely due to the Government Property Agency and the government commercial function, pointing out that removing the data relating to the GCF would mean more women have higher starting salaries.

The gap is also caused by male staff being more likely to have jobs in higher-paid professional specialisms, such as the commercial function, the Cabinet Office said.

The department said last year’s civil service-wide pay pause had meant that, except for the £250 rise for staff at the lowest grade, there was no movement up the pay ranges for most staff and limited the opportunities to close the gap.

The Cabinet Office said this year’s pay award shortened pay ranges and allowed those at the bottom of pay ranges to progress up their range. “This approach reduced the gender pay gap in 2020 and we anticipate that resuming pay awards in this way will reduce it again,” the Cabinet office said.

There is also still a gender pay gap for bonuses. Cabinet Office figures, excluding the GPA and CCS, show women received around £783 less than men on average. While women were on average more likely to receive a bonus, the higher representation of men in more senior grades meant men received a higher mean and median award.

Gardiner said it is “imperative” that the department carries out further work to analyse the data. This analysis will be done done alongside diversity and inclusion staff and the Gender Equality Network.

The Cabinet office will also liaise with departments across the civil service and other organisations, specifically those which have managed to narrow their gender pay gap, to learn from good practice and accountability.

“Reducing the gap is a priority and it is vital that we facilitate a culture of improving gender equality, not just in terms of pay but in all aspects of Cabinet Office,” Gardiner said.

“Along with more targeted interventions, we must take action to create an inclusive working environment; making equality and diversity central features of the Cabinet Office’s ethos."

Gardiner is the government's first parliamentary counsel, working closely with departments to translate policy into clear, effective and readable law.

Several other departments have also released their gender pay gap reports for 2021-22. In the Department for Transport report, permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly said the gender median pay gap had "disappointingly" risen by 7.1 percentage points after six years of decreases.

The gap grew from 5.8% to 12.9% – all but wiping out a 7.2 percentage-point decrease in 2020-21. Kelly said said the large increase was mainly due to a reversal of Covid working arrangements at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which had helped reduce DfT's pay gap the year before.

"The DVLA, our largest agency, employs thousands of people in Swansea, predominantly in more junior grades, the majority of whom are women. Due to temporary changes in the workforce profile and working arrangements (and remuneration as a result) during the peak of the pandemic, the 2020 to 2021 data saw a larger than expected decrease to the DVLA GPG," she said. 

"As we come out of this period and return to more normal ways of working, we have subsequently seen an increase in the GPG this year, although still an overall downward trend."

"Whilst we haven’t seen the decrease we hoped for in 2021-22, I hope the efforts we are taking will ensure we continue to see an improving trajectory on GPG," Kelly added.  

Three departments – the Cabinet Office, DfT and Treasury – mentioned offering flexible working, which was repeatedly slammed by ministers under Boris Johnson's government, as a way to improve the gender pay gap in their reports.

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