By Alan Jones, Press Association Industrial Correspondent
The gender pay gap for full-time workers has fallen to a record low of 8.6%, new figures reveal.
The new figure compares with 9.1% last year and is the lowest since records began in 1997, when it stood at 17.4%.
The difference in the pay of all men and women workers, including those in part-time jobs, has fallen from 18.4% to 17.9%, said the Office for National Statistics.
Average weekly pay for full-time workers is now increasing at its fastest since the financial crisis, especially among lower paid occupations, said the ONS.
“However, after taking account of inflation, earnings are still only where they were in 2011, and have not yet returned to pre-downturn levels,” said ONS statistician Roger Smith.
Median weekly earnings for full-time workers were £560 in April, up by 3.5% from £550 a year ago, said the ONS.
Adjusted for inflation, earnings were at a similar level to 2011 and 3.7% lower than in 2008, prior to the financial crisis.
Earnings grew fastest in lower-paid occupations, but was lowest in areas of the UK where wage rates were low, such as the North East and Wales, said the report.
Full-time earnings were highest in the City of London at just over £1,000 a week and lowest in Rother at £427.
The full-time gender pay gap is close to zero for workers under the age of 40, but widens among older employees.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Working women won’t be celebrating this negligible decrease in the gender pay gap. At this rate, another generation of women will spend their whole working lives waiting to be 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 legally required to explain how they’ll close them, and bosses who flout the law should be fined.”
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, commented: “This is a practically static picture on pay inequality. This slow rate of progress means without significant action, women starting work today and in decades to come will spend their entire working lives earning less than men.
“It’s a loss they can’t afford and it’s a missed opportunity for our economy. Improving our performance on gender equality in the workplace could increase GDP by £150 billion.”