Is Minimum Wage Fair?

minimum wage
Equal work for equal pay? Not if you're a student. Source: Lepraxis (via Pixabay)

By Katherine Wheeler | Comment Editor

It’s October 2021, the minimum wage is £8.91 but not everyone’s earning that much. Slavery and horrendous abuses of power aside, there’s a very legal way employers can get away with paying their employees less.

The legal minimum wage for 18 to 20 year olds is £6.56. A gap of over two pounds. Multiplied over countless hours of work, the costs add up. Not all 18 to 20 year olds receive student finance nor are lucky enough to keep living at home. On top of that, many are considered completely independent by their parents and receive no emotional support upon reaching adulthood. So why are workers doing the same jobs being paid less for equal work?

There’s no evidence that younger workers are less productive. In fact, some are performing the most physically demanding tasks on behalf of their older colleagues. Whilst we may think this sort of wage distribution is the same worldwide, the only other developed country to adopt a similar system is Greece. France, Germany, the US and others have no age bracket for minimum wage payments.

Research by the House of Commons library calculates that ‘an 18 year old working full time on the minimum wage will earn £3,774 a year less than an equivalent colleague aged 25 or over.’ This means young adults, without being supplemented, can’t save for the future despite being burdened with the same expenses: food, utilities, rent… Young adults are getting unequal pay for equal work.

This raises the question: What is the value of minimum wage? Not just for the younger population but the job market on the whole. Jobs such as being a carer are valued more often than not at minimum wage but it would be wrong to say that there are minimum skills required for the job. A truly unskilled carer would pose a safety hazard so it follows that appropriate training is required, alongside additional emotional labour and stress. With more skills comes a position of higher responsibility and with more responsibility, it seems the decent thing to do would be to compensate workers for their skills.

Whilst the government claims low wages incentivise employers to hire staff, this does nothing to improve quality of life amongst employees. Whereas employers may be incentivised to hire on lower wages, employees aren’t seeing appropriate value being given to their livelihoods and, distressingly, more are turning to food banks.

After nationwide staff shortages during the pandemic, it seems the low pay employers offer just isn’t enough and that the value of minimum wage really isn’t guided by skill and productivity as we may have thought.

Katherine Wheeler Comment

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