The need for a fair living wage for all

Source: Lyncconf Games (via Flickr)

By Nina White

Since April, the rates for the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for workers aged between 18-20 has been £6.15 an hour; compared to £8.21 for over 25s. But why are both the top rate of the NMW and the National Living Wage (NLW) only available to over 25s when 18 year olds can fulfil the same roles? 

Last month, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid announced that the government plans to lower the age threshold for the NLW to 21. From 2021, Javid intends on reducing this threshold to those aged 23 and over, further reducing it to those aged 21 and over within the next five years. Although I welcome this decision, I still can’t help but wonder why the government doesn’t just reduce the threshold to 18, and why it’s going to take five years before it even reaches 21? 

This announcement fell under criticism by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, who said that the Labour Party would lower the age threshold for NLW even further. In May, Jeremy Corbyn announced that if the Labour Party win the next general election, they will raise the NLW to £10 in 2020, which will include workers who are under the age of 18. As well as this, Labour have said that this would be put in motion as soon as they enter government. 

This is an issue that should be tackled now, as low pay work has severely impacted the livelihoods of many families across the UK, throwing many into debt and, in some cases, poverty. According to UNISON, there are currently more than 13 million people in the UK living in low-income households. In the case of young people, it is assumed that we are still dependent on our parents – an assumption that is very often wrong. 

Surely, if you do the same work and do it just as well, you should be paid the same as anyone else, regardless of age or gender. The likelihood is that if you’re older you will have a greater access to finance, overdrafts and financial services in general, so not only are you being limited by pay but also by opportunity because of the lack of experience and access. You are not just being punished once because of your age, but twice, and then once more by the state by just assuming that mum and dad are picking up the pieces. 

As a university student, you may be able to relate to needing to work part-time to fund your studies and living expenses. Despite doing the same job as a 25 year old, you’re paid less just because you don’t meet the age threshold for the NLW. An 18 year old who hasn’t chosen to go to university would pay taxes alongside working full time, but they still aren’t currently being paid the same rates.

If you are contributing to the economy just like somebody in their 20s, why should you be paid less? This is an ongoing problem which needs to be tackled sooner rather than later. The same rates should be universal for all young people. 

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