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Mind the Gap: Top Male Government Special Advisors Paid 22% More than Female Counterparts

Analysis of the gender pay gap in Government by the Byline Intelligence Team shows that Westminster has a long way to go to achieve equal pay

Westminster Palace. Photo: Michael Morrison/Alamy

Mind the GapTop Male Government Special Advisors Paid 22% More than Female Counterparts

Analysis of the gender pay gap in Government by the Byline Intelligence Team shows that Westminster has a long way to go to achieve equal pay

A stark gender pay gap exists for top Cabinet special advisors (SPADs), the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

Analysis of the ‘Annual Report on Special Advisers 2020’, published last December, shows that the top 10 highest-paid male SPADs that year earned, on average, £23,000 more than the top 10 highest-paid female SPADs – 22% higher.

The Cabinet Office’s annual report sheds light on the positions and salaries of 116 SPADs across government who were advising members of the Cabinet at the end of 2020. Whilst exact remuneration is not revealed, information is provided on the salary bands individuals fall into – the highest being between £140,000 and £144,999.

By taking the mid-points of these salary bands, the Byline Intelligence Team found that the average salary among the top 10 highest-paid male SPADs was £126,000 a year. This is well above the top 10 highest-paid female SPADs, whose average salary came to just £102,950. 

The analysis also discovered that, as well as a large gender disparity in the highest-paid positions, male SPADs earned on average 10% more than their female counterparts across the board. Fourteen male SPADs earned salaries in excess of £100,000 a year. The same was true for only five women. 

These male salaries included the salary of Dominic Cummings, who left his role as chief advisor to the Prime Minister last November. Cummings was also given a pay rise of at least £40,000 for his position. In 2019, he was paid between £95,000 and £99,999, but his salary was bumped up to £140,000 and £144,999 in 2020.


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A Persistent Issue

The pattern of gender bias in salaries mimics UK society at large, in which the gender pay gap remains a persistent problem which “can hold back” overall productivity, according to the Government’s gender equality ‘Roadmap for Change’.

As is the case for SPADs, it is often in higher-paid roles where women face the greatest income inequality. 2020 data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, while the median difference in pay between men and women was 7.5%, for the top tenth of earners the gap widens to 16.7%.

In the past few years, sections of the Government have looked to set an example for the rest of the country, reducing the gender pay gap significantly. Recent data on income inequality shows that, for administrative occupations within the Government, the gender pay gap now stands at only 2%.

However, as income information on SPADs highlights, this is not a universal reality, with top-tier SPAD gender pay disparities 32% higher than the national average.

The Role of SPADs

SPADs form an integral, if often secretive, part of the Government machine. They advise ministers on a range of decisions, resolve inter-departmental disagreements, and feed carefully cultivated information to the media. In the words of Anne McElvoy, they are the “young shock troops of their party’s future”. 

Since 2019, their role has fallen under increasing scrutiny, with high-profile former SPADs – namely Dominic Cummings and former No 10 communications chief Lee Cain – appearing to occupy roles closer to field marshals than “shock troops”.

The gender imbalance amongst SPADs is not just reflected in pay. It is also apparent in hiring practices. 64% of all SPADs to Cabinet ministers are men. In addition, fewer than a quarter of current Conservative Cabinet ministers are women.

As an increasing number of countries install cabinets with a more equal gender balance, the UK still lags far behind when it comes to ensuring that women are properly represented in key positions. It is a problem that persists not only in the Cabinet, but throughout the Conservative Party. In the 2019 General Election, only 24% of elected Conservative MPs were women; for Labour, the figure was 51%. 

In the ‘Roadmap for Change’, former Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt laid out the need for “gender equality at every stage” to tackle a wide societal problem.

If the Government is serious about addressing gender imbalance, it must set the example right throughout its own machine – including those SPADs with crucial, albeit less visible, influence.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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