This year, mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced the new London living wage will be £9.75 an hour (increasing to £10 an hour during his term in office) – for the rest of the United Kingdom the new rate will be £8.45 an hour. Currently, more than 3000 employers voluntarily pay this living wage – over a third of which are based in London. Adopting the living wage has been found to bring significant benefits to – including increased staff morale as staff are less worried about being able to afford to eat and keep a roof over their heads, reduced absenteeism and improved retention of staff. For employers, having living wage accreditation can even help to attract new staff who are looking for an employer who will treat them fairly.
The economic and moral case for implementing the living wage is therefore clear – so why are the Tories so reluctant to embrace it? Former chancellor George Osbourne’s so-called ‘national living wage’ is nothing of the sort – merely a top-up of the national minimum wage introduced under Tony Blair’s Labour government which only the over 25s will benefit from. As of 1 October, workers aged 18 and under are entitled to £4 an hour; 18-20 year olds will get £5.55; 21 to 24 year olds will be entitled to £6.95 and the over 25s will receive £7.20 an hour. Any increase in the minimum hourly rate paid to workers is of course to be welcomed, but it is insulting to claim that young workers under 25 are entitled to less pay for doing exactly the same work purely because of their age.
The Tories continue to defend paying younger workers less, despite former skills minister Nick Boles admitting there is no evidence that under 25s are any less productive than other workers – in fact there are even some studies which have shown the opposite. Students at college and university who have to work to support themselves because student support barely (if at all) covers their rent struggle to get by meanwhile older colleagues are paid more for doing the exact same work. For 18-20 year olds, this works out at a difference of nearly a quarter despite young workers having to pay the same living expenses as over 25s.
Owen Smith pledged to immediately introduce a ‘real living wage’ of £8.25 per hour for all workers, regardless of age during his leadership campaign this summer. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has also backed plans for a minimum wage ‘likely to be over £10 an hour by 2020’. Yet for young workers who desperately need a Labour government now, more needs to be done. That is why it is important for us as progressives to support our young workers and get behind my union, the GMB’s ‘A Living Wage For All’ campaign, which already has the support of a number of members of parliament, including the recently appointed shadow minister for labour, Jack Dromey. By working closely with our trade union colleagues, we can fight for a fair deal for all workers – not just those over 25.
Marian Craig is a candidate in the 23 and under section in the Progress strategy board elections. She tweets at @MarianCraig