TEST Valley's gender pay gap means women will effectively work months for free this year, figures suggest.

Campaigners have called on the Government to act after data revealed a "worrying" gender pay gap between the earnings of men and women across the UK.

Estimates from the Office for National Statistics show that as of April, female workers in Test Valley were paid an average of £12.62 an hour while their male peers received £16.97. An overall pay gap of 26%.

Over the course of the working year, this means, in effect, women in the area will have worked without pay since September 30.

The ONS said estimates for this year are subject to some uncertainty due to challenges faced collecting data during the coronavirus pandemic but the figures suggest the gap for full-time workers has widened slightly nationally since April 2020 and with women said to have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners believe the problem of unequal pay could worsen.

Romsey MP and chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes said: “Naturally as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee I am very concerned to see the gender pay gap widen this year, partly negating the general downward trend we have previously seen. Of course, there could be a number of explanations for this - not least the impact of furlough, and the wider impacts the Covid pandemic has had on women employees.

“However, there is a good reason why gender pay gap reporting exists, to shine a light on pay disparities where they occur, and we know it works. Since reporting was introduced, the overall trend has been downwards, and the pay gap has all but been eliminated for the under 30s.

“What remains of concern is the erasing of women from the workforce once they hit their 40s, at a time when they should be stepping up into managerial level roles. The boardroom is still where the greatest pay disparity exists and there is still a long way to go before, we can say women and men are truly equal in terms of pay.”

Sophi Berridge, from The Equality Trust, which campaigns to reduce income inequality, said: "During the pandemic, women were more likely to be furloughed or made redundant, suffered from the lack of childcare and took on greater responsibilities of home-schooling and care work.

"The slight increase to the gender pay gap indicates there remains a continuing and pressing problem."

She said employers should consider introducing subsidised childcare, access to paid time off for both parents and robust training and support for women.

A spokeswoman for the Government's Equality Hub said the pandemic had had a serious impact on the workplace and wider economy and will continue to do so.

She added: "The Government will continue working to make the UK a fairer place to live.

"We are committed to making work-places more equal to allow everyone to reach their potential."