Women should have money on their minds when it comes to the gender pay gap

13 November 2015

Recently, Kate Winslet said in an interview that she finds discussing the gender pay gap ‘a bit vulgar’. Apparently discussing money in public is not a very British thing to do.

Perhaps it is something we all need to get better at talking about in public. For far too long the issues of money, pay and salaries have been a taboo. No questions asked, no answers to be had. But there are many questions that I have and that all women in the workplace should be asking. Why won’t I be paid the same as my male colleagues? Why do I apparently ‘deserve’ less money? When will women finally be treated and paid equally at work? There are also many questions that students, in both further and higher education, should be asking. Why will my starting salary be less than my male classmates? Why do I have to work for longer just to get the same money to fund the bus fare to my college course as the guy sat next to me?

Kate Winslet is right that these questions may well be uncomfortable, but it is the unwillingness to provide answers that is most distasteful. Anyone undertaking an apprenticeship faces a minimum wage of just over £3 an hour. The National Union of Students I represent as president worked together with the National Society of Apprentices to increase that, but women in on-the-job training, working just as hard as their male counterparts, still face pay discrimination. In fact, the Young Women’s Trust, together with ComRes, say that whilst Monday marked the day where women effectively work for free for the rest of the year, it is women apprentices who passed that marker some two weeks ago.

Students across the country are also battling rising costs. Both the cost of study itself, along with the text books, course materials and specialist clothing and resources, and the cost of day-to-day living have spiralled. As support such as the Educational Maintenance Allowance has disappeared, and the government are now aiming to remove maintenance grants in higher education, students have felt the brunt of this crisis. Taking on part-time work to help plug the gap, learners are finding it difficult to get by. This gets no easier for women students who even in part-time work are still earning less than men. And even after education, men aren’t just getting into more graduate jobs than women, but where they do they are paid an average of £2,000 more for doing exactly the same job as a women. In higher education, women cheated out of cash in their salary will go on to take longer to pay off this debt, accumulating higher rates of interest and paying more for their degrees than others who are male and wealthy in their cohort.

In education it is not just students themselves feeling the brunt of this unfairness. Women who are teaching, as with women students who teach during their studies, are finding they are paid less than men. According to the Office for National Statistics, women in further education are paid on average £5,000 less than men. These are staggering gaps that we need to close.

Whilst the question of money may make some squirm, they are now ones that we must ask as much as we can, as often as we can. Students who are already facing a crisis in the costs of study and living need those costs to be cut, but women students also need these gaps to be closed. My union is working to #CutTheCosts that students face and to challenge the idea that you can keep piling debt onto the poorest students’ shoulders. We are working to ease the pressure students have on their pockets – nowhere is this more necessary than for women students who are consistently losing out.

The only vulgar and uncomfortable thing to see here is that, in 2015, women are still being paid less, treated differently and are less respected than men.


Megan Dunn is national president of the National Union of Students.