Equal Pay Day is not picked arbitrarily: it marks the particular day each year when women on average stop earning, compared to men. There are different ways of calculating this, but using the mean average of the figures released by the Office for National Statistics on 26 October 2017, the Fawcett Society calculates the full-time gender pay gap at 14.1%. This means that Equal Pay Day is 10 November – that is, women are effectively working for free from that date to the end of the year. This date has not changed since 2015, so at this rate the gap will take a very long time to close.

The UK is not alone within the EU in having a gender pay gap, but according to Eurostat data from 2015, the UK’s unadjusted gender pay gap is higher than 22 other EU countries. Much has been written about gender pay inequality and it has been headline news for much of this past year following the publication of pay data at the BBC and, more widely, within the entertainment sector.But what about pay equality across different ethnic groups?

Far less attention has been given to pay disparity due to ethnicity. This may stem from the Equality Act 2010 itself, whose equal pay provisions, with the exception of rules on pay disclosure, deal with pay equality only as between the sexes and for maternity.

This means that anyone who thinks they are paid less than a colleague when doing the same job because of their ethnicity (or age, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) cannot argue that a pay equality term is implied into their contract of employment and must instead rely on general discrimination law.

The Race Disparity Audit

In October 2017, the Cabinet Office published its first Race Disparity Audit.

Damien Green, First Secretary of State, opened by saying: ‘We believe that how far you go in life should be based on your talent and how hard you work – and nothing else.’

Let’s pause here. Recent headlines and the maelstrom of allegations of sexual misconduct spanning inappropriate conduct to criminal acts from Hollywood to Westminster suggest that we are some way from achieving this objective. At the time of writing, Mr Green himself is the subject of a Cabinet Office investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards a young Conservative activist and having ‘extreme’ pornography on his Commons computer. These allegations are denied and must of course be investigated, but if upheld will indicate that these workplaces demonstrate neither meritocracy nor equality, at least as far as gender is concerned.

As regards racial issues, Mr Green acknowledges in his introduction that ‘the Audit shows a complex picture’ and ‘there is still a way to go before we have a country that works for everyone regardless of their ethnicity.’


Amongst the findings in the Audit, we learn in relation to the UK labour market and income that:

  1. The ethnicities most likely to be found in the three lowest-skilled occupational groups were Pakistani and Bangladeshi.
  2. The ethnicity most likely to be found in the highest-skilled occupational groups was Indian.
  3. The ethnicities receiving the lowest average hourly pay were Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black.
  4. The ethnicity receiving the highest average hourly pay was Indian.

While this is important, it does not show whether there is equal pay for people of different ethnicities doing like work

EHRC research

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, set up in October 2007, has commissioned research in this area, and has found that ethnic pay gaps do exist. For example, a 2008 study by Longhi and Platt found (amongst other things) that:

  1. There is an average pay gap between all ethnic minority women vs White British men. The largest pay gap was experienced by Pakistani women (at 25.7%), followed by Black African women (20.9%), and then Bangladeshi women (at 17.9%).
  2. There is an average pay gap between Pakistani men (22.9%), Bangladeshi men (20.9%) and Black African men (at 17.8%) vs White British men, but not between Indian and Chinese men vs White British men. On the contrary, Indian and Chinese men possibly have a pay advantage.

Why does this pay gap exist?

These ‘ethnic pay gaps’ cannot be explained by factors such as differing level of qualification: even looking at groups of people with the same level of qualifications, pay inequality was still found. More recent research distinguishes between two reasons for the ethnic pay gap: (a) occupational segregation; and (b) lower pay for same work. It was noted that within occupations, the ethnic pay gap was relatively insubstantial, and the main factor seems to have been the sorting of ethnic minorities into low-paid and high-paid occupations. However, it was observed that during the course of the period studied, such sorting reduced, without reducing the wage gap in general, so occupational segregation may be becoming a less important factor.

Further research will be needed to ascertain why certain ethnic minorities are, to any extent, concentrated in certain occupations, why that may result in unequal opportunity for any ethnic groups, and why pay discrimination appears to be continuing. These are complex questions and involve consideration of wider social issues that fall beyond the scope of this article.

One thing is clear, though: a pay gap is evident for most ethnicities. Using Longhi and Platt’s 2008 findings, one can calculate, for example, that Equal Pay Day for Pakistani men was 8 October and for Pakistani women was 28 September, so we do indeed have ‘a way to go before we have a country that works for everyone regardless of their ethnicity.’

[1] Simonetta Longhi and Lucinda Platt, ‘Pay Gaps Across Equalities Areas’ (Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, 2008).[2] Malcolm Brynin and Ayse Güveli, Understanding the Ethnic Pay Gap in Britain (University of Essex, 2012).

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.