Harman proposes to replace a “thicket of legislation” against various different kinds of discrimination with a single duty of equality covering everything from race and gender, through religion and belief to sexual preference and age. That seems reasonable, and it is true that despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970 there are still persistent, incontrovertible inequalities at work. There are some disgraceful cases both at the top and the bottom of the market. Women employees in local authorities are in some cases still being paid less than men for comparable semi-skilled jobs, and employment tribunals regularly expose huge gender differences in City high-flyers’ pay.
What’s more, the gender pay gap – these weighty subjects create horrible expressions – still appears to be marked in government itself. According to civil service number crunchers’ figures for 2006, it was 26% in the Treasury, 21% in the transport department, 17% in Defra, 16% in the culture department and 7% in the work and pensions department. (However, in the government equalities office, women were paid 4% more than men; do not smile.) Harman explained with passion on the Today programme that a part-time woman worker is paid 40% less than her full-time male equivalent. “Do we think she is 40% less intelligent, less committed, less hardworking, less qualified? It’s not the case. It’s entrenched discrimination.”