London - Britain should promote flexible working policies that encourage men to share childcare duties while allowing women to continue working if the country is to reduce the gender pay gap, a parliamentary committee said on Tuesday.
On average women earn 19.2 percent less than men in Britain. Despite the government's pledge to end the pay gap within a generation, it has remained more or less the same for the past four years with women over 40 hardest hit, the committee said.
“Far from this problem diminishing over time, actually we are likely to see it grow over time because the factors that are driving this are not being addressed,” said Maria Miller, chairwoman of the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee.
Miller told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that Britain could not afford to wait 20 years to reduce the gender pay gap because it was “not only unfair and inequitable, it's also a drag on the country's productivity as well”.
Many women are trapped in low-paid, part-time work in which their skills are not fully used, the committee said in a report. It estimates the failure to take advantage of their potential costs the UK economy up to 2 percent of GDP (gross domestic product), around 36 billion pounds ($52 billion) a year.
Flexible working for both men and women - including job shares, working from home, and late starts and early finishes - was key to addressing the gender pay gap, according to the committee, which monitors the performance of the government's Equalities Office.
It also called for fathers to be granted three months of well-paid leave as an incentive to help with childcare and for mothers to encouraged to return to employment after time out of the labour market.
In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to end the country's gender pay gap in a generation, calling it a “scandal” that a woman in Britain earns only 80 percent of a man's pay.
The Fawcett Society, a campaign group promoting women's rights in the workplace, said employers should be obliged to follow the committee's recommendations.
“We particularly welcome the recommendation that all jobs should be flexible by default but we think that this should be backed up with additional regulation as a requirement on employers,” Sam Smethers, the Fawcett Society's chief executive, said in a statement.