Why are 16-20’s paid less than standard minimum wage?

We learnt this week that from October, the National Minimum Working wage will be raised by 20p, to £6.70.

To most people this is good news, but regular critics will point out that the British minimum wage lags far behind neighbouring Ireland and France, that it isn’t keeping up with inflation, or that it’s even further behind the living wage. But despite mentioning it, no column inches will be dedicated to the fact that 16-20 year olds are paid less.

This ‘tiered’ system was introduced with the NMW Act in 1998, on the basis that being less expensive for employers would leverage youth unemployment. This small part of the Act passed through Parliament and into action with little-to-no opposition, but now we face a problem: it didn’t work. Youth unemployment is at an all time high, and young people are considerably out of pocket, and undervalued by the current system.

Although we make up 6% of the population, 16-20 year olds are in a strange legal limbo. From the age of 16 you can live alone, have sex, marry, pay taxes, and join the Army. By 18 you can drink, gamble, and claim Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support. This is where, in theory, the state looks after you, helping you to find a job and get on your own two feet – but even at 18, you still face two years being denied a fair minimum wage.

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