As one of Parliament’s youngest MPs I have spent my first year in the role with a growing sense of anger at the way in which the government treats people of my generation.
In the last year alone we have seen decisions taken to scrap university maintenance grants, remove nurses bursaries, and now we know that George Osborne’s new ‘living wage’ will not apply to workers under 25 as they have been described as not “productive” enough.
It is a situation which is almost unique to Britain with only Greece having a similar age threshold in the entire developed world. France pays the full rate from 18 onwards, as does Germany, and even in the USA there is no age threshold apart from the option to pay workers under the age of 20 a lower rate for their first few months of employment.
It has been defended as a way of tackling youth unemployment. Indeed when I asked the Leader of the House Chris Grayling to explain this policy at a recent debate he replied that “it is important to do everything we can to incentivise employers to take on young people”.
There are serious flaws with this strategy for helping the young not least the fact that employers that actively seek to recruit under 25s in order to cut wage costs risk falling foul of age discrimination legislation.
Any employer interviewing for a role is legally required to choose the best candidate for the position regardless of age. The monetary ‘incentive’ that Chris Grayling believes will persuade employers to hire younger candidates can only be acted on if the employer discriminates against the older applicants.
These concerns are echoed by the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) who told the Low Pay Commission that “our survey data suggests that some businesses may focus their recruitment on the under 25s. However by doing this they run the risk of potentially breaching age discrimination legislation, which should lead many employers to re-evaluate this stance.”
It is a strange situation indeed when the FSB feel compelled to advise their members to avoid acting on ‘incentives’ which are a key plank of the government’s strategy for tackling youth unemployment.
I recently organised the first debate on this issue in Parliament in order to put my concerns directly to Minister Nick Boles (see my full speech here)
During the debate my colleague, Shadow Equalities Minister Cat Smith said that: “It seems that the policy of a minimum wage only properly kicking in at 25 has been dreamt up with an idea of young people who perhaps go through higher education and do some internships while living at home with their parents.”
The Government are acting in a manner which exposes their belief that 25 is the age at which young people become financially independent. This shows how little understanding they have of the situation of young people in our country today; many of whom live away from home and some of whom have children of their own.
Businesses such as Nestle, who employ around 1000 people in my constituency, are taking the lead and recognising that all workers should be paid a fair wage. They pay the true living wage set by the Living Wage Foundation for all their workers. They told me that “not only does it benefit our people but also the communities they live and work in.”
The Government should follow this lead and accept that if you’re putting in the effort you should get a fair wage, regardless of your age. That’s why I’m working with young people and colleagues in Westminster to build pressure on the Government to rethink this unjust decision and legislate for the National Minimum Wage to apply from 18 years of age.
Holly Lynch is Labour MP for Halifax.