Class pay gap sees working class employees work one in seven days for free, research shows

Report reveals ‘elite’ occupations have the largest wage disparity as experts warn businesses against valuing ‘polish over performance’

Credit: Hyejin Kang/iStockphoto/Getty Images

People with working class origins in the UK face an average pay gap of £6,718 or 13.05 per cent, meaning they are working one in every seven days for free, a report has found.

The new research, produced by the Social Mobility Foundation, examined pay data between 2014 and 2021 across 15 ‘elite’ occupations, and found that these occupations, such as CEO, had the largest class pay gap of £16,749 per year on average between those with working class and professional-managerial origins.

Finance managers had the second highest class pay gap (£11,427), followed by management consultants (£8,863), solicitors (£8,115) and accountants (£6,261).

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Sam Friedman, professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, said an average pay disparity of £6,718 represented a “grossly unfair class pay gap”, adding that “it’s time for the government to act and finally make class a protected characteristic”.

While calling the report findings “alarming”, Alan Lewis, employment partner at Constantine Law, explained that “under current UK law, a claim for discrimination on the grounds of class/ class pay gap is not possible, because class is not one of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010”.

But Paul Holcroft, managing director at Croner, said that did not give businesses the green light to treat workers differently: “While class alone is not a protected characteristic, employees may bring claims of constructive dismissal if they feel they are pushed out of the organisation because of the actions and behaviours of their employer.”

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Holcroft added that “should their treatment relate to other protected characteristics, such as gender, race or age, they may be able to raise a claim for discrimination”.

Additionally, the report found gender, race and ethnicity exacerbated the gap and created a “double disadvantage”, as working class women were paid an average £9,450 less than their male colleagues, even when both were working in higher professional-managerial positions.

In terms of an ethnic/racial perspective, people of Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean heritage were paid an average of £10,432 and £8,770 less respectively than their white peers in the same jobs.

Sarah Atkinson, CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation, said it still pays to be privileged as those with working class backgrounds face “barriers”.

“Far too often employers value ‘polish over performance’,” said Atkinson, adding: “The cost  of living crisis and the pandemic will be a hammer blow to social mobility.

“As an absolute starting point, employers must collect socioeconomic data on their staff to assess the problem, then they can get serious about solutions.”