My fellow sixteen year olds can’t vote, but that doesn’t stop us being the target of Jeremy Corbyn’s magnanimity. His latest idea: to make sure we are paid the same as adults. So he proposes raising the minimum wage for everyone, including those under the age of 18, to £10 an hour.
You can see the superficial appeal. Gone are the days of £5 an hour work. Thanks to Corbyn, a £20 top will take two hours of work to buy, as opposed to four. Which 16 or 17 year old could complain at that?
But in reality, the idea isn't so good. When applying for work, we’re not just competing with other 16 or 17 year olds but with middle-aged men and women who have an array of life experiences making them far better suited to most jobs. We need more training, we are more likely to mess up, are less flexible thanks to school or college. We also need more time to adjust to our work environments and are far more likely to leave the company sooner. Our only weapon is the fact that we can legally accept lower pay.
So that £20 top? Well you can’t really buy it because you won’t have a job.
My first ever paid job was in a clothing store in Leeds, for eight hours a week. I wouldn’t have ever got that job if I demanded the same pay as older applicants. I could only work after 6 pm (or on weekends), knew nothing about customer service and had to pester customers about opening credit card accounts I couldn’t even have because I was underage. Yet in our training session of around 30 people, only two were over the 18-20 pay group (at £6.15 an hour now). One of the older ladies had worked all her life in customer service on and off, and was completely flexible with whatever shift she was given. So why weren’t more people like her hired instead of me? Simple: they are legally entitled to higher pay.
And let’s remember that us 16 year olds don’t really have many necessities to spend money on. Adults spend their wages buying food or covering rent, I spent mine on a fancy graphical calculator for my maths course. I’m not saying education isn’t important because it is, and that’s exactly why I’m glad I could get that job. But my income after paying for necessities was actually higher than the income for an average adult on minimum wage, because I didn’t have to pay for rent or food.
Let’s not forget too that increasing the minimum wage to £10 an hour, particularly for all age groups, will leave less money for small businesses. This will make it more likely that they will have to make cuts to the number of staff, increasing unemployment for both my age group and those older than me. These staff will have to be better skilled and experienced to manage a higher workload. But this is experience that younger people can't obtain as easily because we would be less likely to be offered a job in the first place.
So if Jeremy Corbyn really wants to help young people he should forget hiking the minimum wage and instead offer tax cuts to small businesses so they can hire more staff (including young people) and focus on providing a better range of apprenticeships.