In 2015, George Osborne announced in his budget that the UK were going to make sure that, by 2020, we would be on £9 an hour, well deserving of the title “the National Living Wage”.
However, despite the fact that inflation by 2020 would arguably make £9 an hour less impressive (seeing that the Living wage rose by 40p in November), there is also a catch. At the moment, the only changes are going to be for people aged 25 and over.
The justification of this by the government is that it will allow young people to “secure work and gain experience” as well as to “maximise the opportunities” available to them.
Now, this seems fine and well, apart from the fact that this is pretty much going to screw over young people AND people over 25.
Just think about it. At this moment in time, the national minimum wage is £6.70 an hour. This applies (currently) to anyone over the age of 21, with the minimum wage for 18-20 year old workers being £5.30 an hour, and a staggeringly low £3.87 for people under 18. This means that, BEFORE the changes, people over 21 are earning £2.83 an hour more than under 18s (and £1.40 more for people aged 18-20) for just being older. Say what you want about ‘gaining experience’, they are doing exactly the same work as someone who is 21+, and it’s not that fair.
From April 2016, the situation is going to be even more clouded. This is due to the government’s 2020 “living wage” plan making its first progress, boosting the wage from £6.70 an hour to £7.20 an hour for people aged 25 and over. This means that, especially people who are working in shops and other customer service industries (as well as other employment that works on a minimum wage payment), the wage gap between 17 year olds and 25 year olds is going to be an incredible £3.33 an hour. Simply for being older, 25 year olds are going to be paid almost DOUBLE the wage of someone under 18.
You might, however, argue that 16-18 year olds “don’t need the money as much as 25 year olds”, because they spend it on unimportant things like university funding, or even a car or driving lessons. Whatever arguments you say about teenage spending, there are adults that spend their wage on pretty much similar things, whether it be video games, alcohol, or trying to avoid getting £50,000+ in debt to study at university. It doesn’t mean that their work is less valuable, or that they put in less effort.
Look at 18-20 year olds, if you want another side of the argument (I’ll be getting on to my current age bracket, 21-24, soon). They are getting paid £1.90 less despite being legally classed as an adult. At that age, finding work isn’t about getting some extra pocket money, it’s either finding work to complement further education or as a full time job, and, therefore, trying to save up to move out and become independent (seeing that they legally have to pay council tax anyway).
This becomes even muddier when it comes to the 21-24 year old workers. This is pretty much consisting of graduates and the independent adults from the 18-20 section, with some mature students thrown into the mix. This group has all the responsibilities as people 25+. If you have a person working in a shop that’s full time (I’ve classed this as 40 hours, but some companies differ) and 24, and another person that’s full time and 25, there shouldn’t be a £20 per week difference in their wage. The only reason they are being paid £20 more a week is because of their age. When you are doing something like retail, having 1 year more experience or being 1 year older doesn’t make a fucking difference. Being 24 as opposed to 25 doesn’t make your bills, your council tax, or your mortgage repayments (okay, with this government, this example is stretching it a bit far) any cheaper. It’s exactly the same financial responsibility as an 18 year old would have, so why do people 25 and older get placed on a minimum-wage significantly higher than people that have the same responsibilities financially? £2o may not seem like much per week, but it adds up to an extra £1,020 a year just for being a year older, which is just simply ridiculous. If you were working 40 hours a week at 18 years old, someone aged 25 and over would be earning £3,952 more a year from April. The exact same job, the exact same responsibilities, but your age (and the concept of experience, we mustn’t forget about that) means you earn nearly four grand less a year, because fuck you, 18-20 year olds – lots of love, George Osborne.
The Living wage issue doesn’t just affect people under 25, though. Seeing that 1 in 20 (or 5% of the population, roughly 3,250,000 people) are on minimum wage at the moment, and the suggestion of it increasing to 1 in 9 by 2020, people over 25 will more than likely find themselves too valuable for businesses to employ them. Significant amounts of high street companies hire 16-20 year olds already because of their lower wage cost, but increasing 25 y/o+ workers’ wages by 50p an hour (and steadily rising in the future) will just make the cheaper, more affordable teenagers even more worthwhile. Sure, they will earning more, but they will most certainly see doors close in the future because of their extra expense.
The living wage is being heralded as a “masterstroke“, but without other increases to the minimum wage for younger people, it’s quite simply adding another tier to the minimum wage and rebranding it as “living”. All it is doing is making a clear statement that people 25 and over apparently work harder than people under 25, and that they deserve to be paid more because of it. I’m sorry, George Osborne, but as someone that has suffered through the minimum wage tiers and austerity cuts, and not had a rich family to bail me out whenever I needed it, I know when I’m being served shit despite being told that it’s champagne.