It’s 100 years since some women in the UK won the right to vote. But women still couldn’t become lawyers or accountants and couldn’t work for the civil service if they were married. The right to equal pay didn’t become law for another 50 years, and there’s still a gender pay gap today. Find out what’s changed for women’s financial independence in the last 100 years.
100 years and what it means for women’s financial independence
1918: Women aged 30 or over were able to vote, but only if they were property ‘occupiers’ or married to a property occupier. This meant that only 40% of women were able to vote. Men aged over 21 could vote.
1919: The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed, which meant that women were legally allowed to enter professions for the first time. Women could become lawyers, vets and accountants, sit on juries and become magistrates.
1922: The Matrimonial Causes Act gave women the ability ask for a divorce on the grounds of adultery. Previously only men had been able to use adultery as a ground for divorce.
1928: Women under 30 but over 21 were able to vote (the same criteria as applied to men).
1929: Margaret Bondfield became the first woman to be appointed as a cabinet member.
1946: The Marriage Bar was abolished in October 1946. The Marriage Bar had prohibited married women from being employed by the civil service and meant that women had to leave the civil service when they got married (unless they were given express permission to stay). Until the 1970s, women who were married were still forced to leave the civil service if they worked overseas.
Mid 1940s onwards: There was a gradual increase in the number of employers that would allow women to carry on working after they married. This trend increased in the 1950s and 60s. However, employers were only barred from insisting that women quit their jobs when they got married after the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975. This made discrimination against women illegal on the grounds of sex or marital status.
1956: New laws meant that women working in the civil service and as teachers should be paid on an equal basis to men.
1970: The Equal Pay Act meant that women had the right to be paid the same as men if they did the same job. However, this didn’t apply to similar jobs or jobs of the same value.
Up to 1975: Some mortgage lenders and other credit providers would not let women borrow money in their own name. Their husband (if they had one) had to have his name on their agreement or act as a guarantor. This practice was only ended by the Sex Discrimination Act.
1975: The Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women on the basis of gender or marriage in the workplace.
1977: The ‘Married Women’s Stamp’ (the reduced rate of National Insurance that married women could pay) was abolished, although any woman already paying it could continue to pay this lower rate.
SAVVY TIP: Paying the lower rate of National Insurance meant you weren’t entitled to a state pension in your own right, something that many women weren’t aware of. Some believed, or were told, that they had to pay the lower rate of National Insurance once they were married.
1977: The gender pay gap was 24.5% (women earned 75.5% of the amount men did, on average). By 1980, the gender pay gap had widened to 26.5%.
1983: An amendment to the Equal Pay Act meant that women had the right to be paid the same as men for work of equal value, not just if they were doing the same job. A woman could compare her job to that of a named man who did a different role on the basis that it made similar demands on both workers.
1990: Married couples were no longer taxed as a ‘unit’ but as two individuals. Before then, a married woman’s income was viewed as part of her husband’s. Income tax was introduced in the UK in 1799 and the Income Tax Act of 1806 deemed that any profits earned by married women ‘shall be deemed to be the profits of the husband’.
SAVVY TIP: Even as late as 1988, the Income and Corporation Taxes Act (which preceded independent taxation) described the situation at the time as: “A woman’s income chargeable to income tax shall … during which [time] she is a married woman living with her husband, be deemed for income tax purposes to be his income and not her income.” Yes, you read that correctly!
1997: The gender pay gap for full time employees was 17.4%. For both full time and part-time employees, it was 27.5%.
2000: Women who worked or had worked part time but who’d been barred from joining their employer’s pension scheme (which had been quite common) had the right to join the scheme. Not only that, they had the right to backdate their membership of their employer’s pension scheme as far back as 1976. However, that assumed women would be able to afford to make the pension payments – possibly going back many years.
2000: Workplace and private pensions could be split or shared at the point of divorce. Until then, pensions could only be ‘offset’ against the value of other assets, such as the home. In practice, many divorce lawyers underestimated the importance of the pension (and some barely mentioned it). Even where it was mentioned, women were often given incorrect information about their rights to a share of it.
2010: The state pension age for women began to rise from 60 to 65. This was the result of an Act of Parliament that was passed in 1995. The idea was that the state pension age would rise to 65 by 2020. It affected women born after April 5th 1950.
2011: The coalition government changed the law so that the state pension age would increase for both women and men, to 66 by October 2020. This change affected women more than men as women born in the 1950s were already seeing their state pension age rise to 65.
2017: In April 2017 the gender pay gap was 9.1% for full time employees and 18.4% for full and part-time employees (this was a rise from 18.2% in 2016).
2018: April 4th sees the deadline for companies employing over 250 workers to report on their gender pay gap. The legislation took effect in October 016 and companies were given 18 months to publish their average hourly rate for men and women. However, women still don’t have the right to find out how much a man doing an equivalent job is being paid (so they can establish whether or not they’re being paid fairly under the equal pay laws).
2018: In November the state pension age for women rose to 65. It will then rise to 66 for women and men by October 2020.
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