The government's policies aimed at closing the gap between the pay of men and women have acted as a "sticking plaster" rather than a cure for the problem, a new report claimed today.
The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality, said the government had not tackled the root causes of the disparity in men's and women's earnings.
Increases in the minimum wage had helped many women but the reasons why women were paid less than men were not being fully addressed, the report claimed. Ministers were accused of not being bold enough to close the gender pay gap completely.
Women working full-time earned around 20% less an hour than men and this dropped to 40% for part-timers, while men's total income was almost twice that of women's, said the report.
Dr Katherine Rake, the director of the Fawcett Society, said: "We recognise that the current government has done much to improve the financial position of many women. But women's income is still just over half that of men.
"In the run-up to this election, in which women's votes are going to be so important, we want all parties to take bold action and adopt gender equality as an explicit target."
The society called on political parties to set targets and dates for cutting the gender pay gap and to force firms to undertake audits to make sure women were not being paid less than men.
Caroline Slocock, chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: "The pay gap between the sexes is a disgrace. There is no justification for women of equal ability and education to expect to earn nearly 20% less than men.
"But this is not just about fairness. Britain needs to compete and, with women now making up nearly half the workforce, employers are increasingly relying on women's skills to remain competitive.
"More people are taking on caring responsibilities but full-time work is still seen as the 'correct' work pattern. We need a rethink of policy and practice which matches how people live their lives with the reality at work.
"Until government and employers provide opportunities for people to balance work with caring, education breaks down barriers to women in 'male' careers and the law promotes good workplace practices that provide clarity for individuals and employers then pay differences will remain stubbornly high."
Press Association The Guardian