Hey George Osborne, under-25s are people too

The chancellor shows shocking callousness to young people in work, says Robyn Vinter

It was the announcement that prompted this reaction from Iain Duncan Smith, but saw many under 25s plunge their heads into their hands.


Osborne said he would set a new Living Wage at £7.20 and apply it to all workers.

All workers, that is, except those under 25.

There’s much debate around what a Living Wage in the UK is, with the Living Wage Foundation saying what Osborne announced “is effectively a higher National Minimum Wage and not a Living Wage”, but putting the complex debate aside, the chancellor has shown shocking callousness in excluding young people from the Living Wage.

On a practical level, does Osborne really think 24 year-olds use less heating and water, eat less food and pay less rent?

I can remember my 25th birthday and, among the usual feeling of having wasted a quarter of a century, there was categorically no rise in living costs. And my job stayed the same too – I wasn’t suddenly doing more work than the day before when I was 24.

I’m a strong believer that if you’re prepared to work for something, you should be adequately rewarded. However, Osborne seems to think people doing the same job should be paid not on the job they do, but by their age – a very odd metric which creates an age-based underclass. For a government that puts its trust in capitalism and the free hand of the markets, they’re doing a lot to interfere.

For a government trying to persuade young people that a life on the minimum wage is better than a life on the dole, there really is no worse way to do that. What the government is saying is “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t”.

By the age of 25, people should no longer have to depend on their parents for somewhere to live, or for help with bills, but this Budget is making that impossible for many people who go to work every day working minimum wage jobs that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we wouldn’t like to do.

Similarly, why should parents with grown-up working children be made to give them handouts (and that’s assuming they’re able to afford to give handouts, which many aren’t).

But the underlying and extremely troubling issue is that this is just one of many policies making up the government’s assault on young people. Removing housing benefit for under 21s who work, and taking away grants for poor kids who want to go to university, are despicable policies, almost as though they were designed to punish people for being young.

The government is writing off a generation and causing long-term problems that may take a lifetime to fix.


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Readers' comments (6)

  • Robyn - think you are writing before thinking! This is a minimum rate that has to be paid, employers can pay more if they like. What it does mean is that getting a job could be easier if under 25, despite not having the experience of an older work you are more competitive on price. Once you have the job its up to you to prove your worth (or more!).

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  • Thanks for your comment Brian M. Of course employers could pay more but most don't.

    By the time I was 25 I'd been working minimum wage jobs for more than a decade - I think that's plenty of experience, even in this job market. We're not talking about kids, these people are adults, sometimes with children of their own.

    You seem to think there is room for wage negotiation in these roles which is not the case for many people on the minimum wage. One in 20 people in the UK would not be on the minimum wage if "proving your worth" was that easy.

    Perhaps I didn't make my case clearly enough but what employees are paid should reflect their competence. People doing the same job to the same standard should be paid the same. It's as simple as that.

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  • You are missing the point Robyn. There may well not always be room for negotiation but the higher your skill level the more bargaining power you have. When people are 16/18/21 leaving education they don't usually have much in the way of directly useful skills. It takes time in a job to develop them. A lower level of minimum wage for the Under 25s is a reflection that some of them don't have a good enough skill set so the only thing they can offer is being cheap. That can and should change as they get older if they think about what they are doing and work hard. The most important thing for a young person is not being paid a lot but getting the opportunity to work and prove themself.
    Don't confuse the housing issue with minimum wage. That is so bad that people earning £40k can struggle so a different solution is required.

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  • Thanks Daniel for your comment. Like I said, people who are aged 24 are not necessarily any less experienced than those older than them. If you think more experienced people should be paid more, great. I agree with you. But it's simply wrong to assume every person in the UK who is aged 24 has less experience than every person who is 25. It's a fatally flawed argument. If you want to pay someone for their experience, their previous work listed on their CV is a far better guide.

    Finally, I think it's you who is confused about the housing benefit announcements. You're mixing up two separate changes. I refer you to the chancellor's exact words from the speech: "We are also abolishing the automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds."

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  • "But it's simply wrong to assume every person in the UK who is aged 24 has less experience than every person who is 25"
    I don't and the Chancellor didn't. We are talking about minimum wage jobs here so these are likely to be jobs that do not require a great deal of skill (or much of a CV). It is merely the smallest amount that an employer can pay. Overall younger workers will have less domestic responsibilities than older (and consequently they are less able to take the risk of giving up a poorly paid job to try a hopefully better one) which is why there is an age limit on it. The policy is really about forcing employers to pay more for people with families so the country doesn't have to top up their pay with welfare.

    If your job requires much experience or skill then I would be surprised if this will affect you (certainly in the South-East) as you will already be earning above the minimum wage.

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  • My mistake; I wasn't talking about housing benefit just about the cost of housing as high rent and house prices are what make it very difficult or impossible for young people to afford to move out. That is a result of not enough houses. However why should 19 year olds get housing benefit? If you go back to Beveridge the idea of the welfare state was to look after those who had fallen on hard times. I believe he was clear that you needed to contribute first and earn that entitlement. At 19 you haven't been in worked long enough to do that.

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