Workers from poorer backgrounds face class earnings penalty

The UK’s “shocking” class pay gap means professional employees from poorer backgrounds are paid almost £7,000 a year less on average than their peers from more privileged families, according to research for the Social Mobility Commission.

The study found that even those from working class families who have exactly the same role, education and experience as their colleagues from more advantaged backgrounds are still paid on average 7 per cent less, equating to just under £2,250 a year, reports The Guardian.

The class pay gap is worse for women and for people from minority-ethnic backgrounds, according to the research, carried out for the commission by the London School of Economics and University College London.

Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who chairs the commission, said he would send details of the findings to employers and expected them to “take action to end the shocking class earnings penalty”.

Milburn said: “This unprecedented research provides powerful new evidence that Britain remains a deeply elitist society.”

The study, using data covering almost 65,000 people drawn from the UK Labour Force Survey, found that on average professionals from more disadvantaged backgrounds were paid 17 per cent less than their more privileged peers, or £6,800 a year.

The difference is partly explained by the fact that people whose parents had professional jobs tend on average to be better educated. The statistics also show they are more likely to join bigger firms or to work in London, both of which are associated with higher pay.

The study identified signs of what it called “occupational segregation”, whereby people from working class backgrounds are more likely to enter a profession at a lower-paid level.

However, the authors found that the 7 per cent pay gap remained even when people from different backgrounds were professionally the same “in every way we can measure”, and meant other factors must be at work.

These could include people from poorer backgrounds being less likely to ask for pay rises or having fewer chances to network. Other possible explanations include conscious or unconscious class discrimination, and the idea of “cultural matching”, whereby those in senior positions promote people they feel similar to.

The research found more glaring class pay gaps in some professions than others. While it was fairly modest in nursing, teaching, social work and life sciences, in medicine the difference in average annual pay was just over £10,200, and in finance it was more than £13,700.

Parallel analysis of the labour force data showed medicine was also the profession least accessible in the first place to people from working class backgrounds, with these comprising just 6 per cent of the total, compared with 33 per cent of the population. Next worst was journalism, with 12 per cent of people coming from poorer backgrounds.

Overall, the study found, people from a professional or managerial family were 2.5 times more likely to end up in a similar job themselves than people from less advantaged backgrounds.

Milburn said it “cannot be right” that people from working class backgrounds were paid so much less.

“Many professional firms are doing excellent work to open their doors to people from all backgrounds, but this research suggests much more needs to be done to ensure that Britain is a place where everyone has an equal chance of success regardless of where they have come from,” he said.

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said the report showed “clear evidence that even when working class people do well in life, they are still penalised in their pay packets”. She added: “This kind of pay gap underlines the endemic elitism that remains in our society – we are far from being a Britain that works for all.”

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the report “exposes the gaping class divide at the heart of our society that we all already knew existed”.

He added: “It’s time for the government to not just say the right thing but do the right thing by investing in education and ensuring every person is given a chance to succeed.”

A government spokesman said: “Work is the best route out of poverty and education is key to making sure everyone can go as far as their talents will take them. We are looking at ways to deliver more good school places in more parts of the country, investing in improving careers education, transforming the quality of further and technical education and opening up access to our world-class higher education system.

“Through our industrial strategy we are determined to close the wealth gap between regions, improve living standards and create jobs so everyone can share the benefits of our economic success.”