The Living Wage and The Devaluation of Young Labour

Last month the living wage was introduced throughout Britain, increasing wages for over 25s by 50p, from the original £6.70 to £7.20. While this is undoubtedly a good thing, as the cost of living continues to increase, but the way the raise has been implemented leaves much to be desired, mainly, the failure to also raise the wages of those under 25 years old.

If you’re under 25 years old, you still only get paid £6.70 an hour, and if you’re under 20 you get paid £5.30. And if you’re 16-17 years old, expect to get a pitiful £3.87. If 16 is the legal age to leave school, get married and have a child, shouldn’t the minimum wage reflect that? While many 16 year olds get jobs as a source of extra pocket money, not everyone has the luxury of being able to depend on parents for food or shelter. It is foolish to keep the minimum wages for young people so low when they need to pay for the same things as older adults do. Maddy, a Glasgow University student, says that this is fundamentally unfair: We do the exact same amount of work and we have the exact same bills to pay’.

University student Alex also states that “a lot of people in the 18-25 age group will be students or have left home, and are likely working jobs with unreliable zero hour contracts, at the same time as going to classes and actually studying for a degree.“ Although during term time we have SAAS to rely on, during the summer SAAS payments stop completely, leaving many students having to pick up another job just to survive. This comes at a time where a student’s summer is encouraged to be spend having fun, working at (often unpaid) internships, volunteering and gaining life experiences that they won’t be able to do at any other time in their life.  The stress of searching for or holding multiple poorly paid zero-hour contracts only adds to the growing numbers of students and young people with high levels of anxiety and depression, putting even more strain on already under-funded mental health facilities.

The devaluation of labour done by under 25s sends a clear message to young people in Britain today: that no matter how hard you work, you will not be recognized for your contributions because it’s easier and cheaper to pay you less. Chloe, who works in retail, sums this up by stating that ‘If someone below 25 is doing the same job they should get paid the same.’ By enabling businesses to save money by paying someone younger to do the same job not only hurts younger workers but also over 25s, as it could, to some businesses, make economic sense to only hire younger people at the expense of just as qualified over 25 year olds. It’s a move that hurts not only young people, but also the entire work force.

While the raising of the minimum wage (let’s face it, it’s still not anywhere near an actual living wage) for over 25 years olds is great and needed, the refusal to address the problems of younger workers is only letting them down. Megan, who works full-time in hospitality, points out that ‘Due to the increasing price of literally everything, those on a lower wage are going to struggle until they turn 25. This means that people in my age gap have to wait 6 years before they earn an equal wage.’ This is not good enough, and our young workers deserve better.

[Jo Reid]

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