4 JANUARY 2019

This blog was originally published by The Metro.

The day is already upon us: Fat Cat Friday. This is the day when the highest earners have already made the equivalent of the average worker’s annual wage by three working days into the year.

Now, close your eyes and visualise that proverbial fat cat (I am a cat-lover myself by the way, and not keen on this analogy, but stick with it), how many of you see a woman? Not many, I’m guessing.

The truth is the cats at the top of the income tree are overwhelmingly male, while the lesser-fed worker variety at the bottom are predominantly female. This is why 61 per cent of low paid workers are women. So, the gap between the highest and lowest earners is also a tale of gender inequality.

With all the focus on the gender pay gap in recent years, you might be forgiven for expecting to see a significant shift by now. But you will be disappointed. Gender pay gap reporting has led to large employers publishing their pay data. This first step has been a success, with 100 per cent of large employers now reportedly compliant.

But analysis by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found that just one in five of them have put an action plan in place to close it and only 11 per cent have set targets. It’s a bit like that New Year reality of getting on the bathroom scales and seeing that we’ve put on weight, but that is where the fitness regime ends.

I suppose you can take a fat cat to water but you can’t make it drink, right? Wrong.

Just one in five of companies have put an action plan in place to close the gender pay gap, and only 11% have set targets. The government can toughen up the regulations, requiring action plans to be published and targets to be set. Myself and my team at Fawcett have called for this from the start, as we feared that the majority of employers would not take action unless required to do so.

One significant and welcome development is the focus on pay gap by ethnicity reporting, which the government is currently consulting on. Just as the fat cat is normally male, he is also normally white (and older too, by the way).

Fawcett did our own analysis of the gender pay gap by ethnicity and found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women and also black African women saw the biggest pay gaps at 26 per cent and 24 per cent respectively, with little improvement seen over the past 10 years. But as with gender pay reporting, ethnicity pay reporting will make little difference unless there is action required to close the gaps identified.

So what’s on my wish list for 2019?  A requirement to publish pay gap action plans and to set targets, which is backed up with a new statutory duty to prevent discrimination and harassment. This would hold employers accountable for the steps they are taking to promote equality in the workplace.

If 2018 was the year the #MeToo movement disrupted our workplaces, 2019 has to be the year we respond with action to change workplace culture for good. Just as the fat cat is normally male, he is also normally white (and older too, by the way).

We also need action across all the causes of the pay gap, including a new, better paid and longer period of leave for fathers, coupled with flexibility by default. All jobs should be advertised as flexible working jobs unless there is a good business reason for them not to be. Dads need to be supported to take time off – we can’t achieve equality at work without equality at home. We need more women in senior positions.  

The Mayor of London has this week published his toolkit for London employers, but again this needs to be more than just voluntary if it is to achieve a lasting impact.

Let’s not forget that pay discrimination still happens. This is why we’ve launched our new Equal Pay Advice service, to support those experiencing pay discrimination.

It’s also crucial that we increase the National Living Wage to the Real Living Wage level (the only rate based on living costs) to tackle poverty pay. Universal Credit also needs urgent reform, so that it makes work pay rather than penalising the poorest. It is a sad indictment of our society that child poverty is increasing, even though the majority of the poor are in work. Women are, unfortunately, over-represented at the bottom of the income scale and disproportionately dependent on a benefits system which, under Universal Credit, will see the majority of single parents worse off, 92 per cent of whom are women.

So for me, the only value in Fat Cat Friday is not to focus on the fat cats at all. But instead, to focus on the battle to improve things for the rest of the workforce.


Sam Smethers, CE of FawcettSam is the Chief Executive of The Fawcett Society.

The Fawcett Society and YESS Law are working in partnership to offer an Equal Pay Advice Service targeted at those whose gross income is £30,000 per year or less and who do not have access to legal advice.

If you believe that you may be experiencing pay discrimination complete the questionnaire below. You will then be referred to YESS Law who will contact you within 2 weeks to follow up.

This service is made possible by donations to our Equal Pay Fund which was started by a donation from Carrie Gracie. Please donate here to support this vital work.