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Not just gender: Britain’s a ‘deeply elitist society’ as class pay gap unearthed

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Professionals from working class backgrounds are paid £1,000s less than their affluent colleagues, ground-breaking research has discovered.

UK professionals from working class backgrounds are paid £6,800 (17%) less than their colleagues from more affluent backgrounds, research by the Social Mobility Commission has revealed.

Analysis of data from the UK Labour Force Survey – the largest survey of employment in the UK with over 90,000 polled – was used to examine access to the professions and the impact of socio-economic background on earnings.

And the academics unearthed a “previously unrecognised ‘class pay gap’”.

The report found that access to Britain’s professions remain dominated by those from more privileged backgrounds. But even when people from working class backgrounds manage to break into a professional career they face an earnings penalty compared with colleagues who come from better-off backgrounds.

This is despite having the same education attainment, role and experience as more privileged colleagues, yet those from poorer backgrounds are still paid an average of £2,242 (7%) less.

As such, women and ethnic minorities face a ‘double’ disadvantage in earnings the report said.

The research further found that Britain’s traditional professions such as medicine, law, journalism and academia remain dominated by people from advantaged backgrounds. Nearly three quarters (73%) of doctors are from professional and managerial backgrounds, with less than 6% from working class backgrounds.

Even when working classes get into the professional class rankings, they don’t go on to achieve the same earnings or levels of success. The report found the biggest class pay gaps exist in finance (£13,713), medicine (£10,218) and IT (£4,736).

Individuals from poorer backgrounds may also be less likely to ask for pay rises and in some cases, exclude themselves from promotion for fear of not ‘fitting in’.

Other explanations for the ‘class pay gap’ could include conscious or unconscious discrimination or more subtle employment processes which lead to ‘cultural matching’ in the workplace.

‘Britain remains a deeply elitist society’

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the SMC, said: “This unprecedented research provides powerful new evidence that Britain remains a deeply elitist society.

“Too many people from working class backgrounds not only face barriers getting into the professions, but also barriers to getting on. It cannot be right that they face an annual class pay gap of £6,800.

“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.”

Milburn said that how much you are paid should be determined by your ability not your background.

“Employers need to take action to end the shocking class earnings penalty. The commission will be sending major employers details of this research and asking them how they intend to close the class pay gap.”