The pay and jobs prospects of women are going into “reverse” amid the Government’s austerity measures, a new report has warned.

The Fawcett Society said today marked the point in the year when women in effect started working for nothing because of the gender pay gap.

The campaign group said women will be hit by plans for regional pay in the public sector and proposals to swap employment rights for shares in a company.

Chief executive Ceri Goddard said: “At the same time, women’s unemployment stands at a 24-year high and growing numbers of women have been forced into low paid, part-time and insecure employment - underemployment.

“Far from slowly moving forward, we now face going into reverse. If Government wants to avoid an unprecedented backwards step on its watch, they must take more action.

“The UK needs a dedicated women’s employment strategy, and more must be done to enable the private sector to ensure a fair deal for women.

“Ensuring that basic employment rights are not branded as red tape and getting employers to undertake simple payroll checks so women don’t lose out would also demonstrate real commitment to the millions of women being hit with a double whammy of unequal pay and frozen or shrinking salaries.”