Terms and Conditions of Employment: Age and Wage

 

Surely the hon. Lady acknowledges the Low Pay Commission’s conclusion:

“In light of this evidence we concluded when thinking about the pay floor for this age group, that it could not currently be set to the same level as the national living wage without risks to employment.”

 

Alison Thewliss

(Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government))

That was exactly the type of comment that the Conservatives made when the national minimum wage was introduced—that it would risk people’s employment. That has not been the case. The impact assessment says that the Government asked the Low Pay Commission to set the national minimum wage at these levels. The Government have instructed the Low Pay Commission to do this. That is quite different, and I do not buy the hon. Gentleman’s arguments at all.

The gap amounts to a difference of thousands of pounds in the take-home pay of a 16-year-old, an 18-year-old, a 21-year-old and a 25-year-old, and it is completely unjustifiable, because this is not about experience, as I said. It does not say that in the regulations; they specify the age, and age alone.

I shall quote from the excellent report by the Young Women’s Trust, called “Paid Less Worth Less?”, which I commend to the Minister. Shanae, who is 24, said:

“A 25 year-old starting out on their first job and just entering the workplace would have the same experience as a 16 year-old who is also just starting out. If companies want to pay based on experience, then that should be reflected in what they choose to pay people. But that’s different from paying us on our age.”

She is absolutely correct.

At 25 or younger, many people have families of their own to support and their own responsibilities, and in the research by the Young Women’s Trust, Tia mentions her circumstances specifically. She says:

“I am a care-leaver and I have lived independently since I was 17, so that makes my costs exactly the same as maybe like a 30 year-old who is living in a private rented flat. You have bills to pay like any other adult. Everyone gets hungry. Everyone has to pay for gas, electrics, toiletries, clothes and food. It still adds up the same. So I don’t see why there should be a pay difference.”

I do not see why there should be a pay difference either. It is completely unjustifiable.

Young people have to pay the same amount as somebody over 25 for rent, for getting the bus to work, for childcare, for the cinema, and maybe for a Freddo bar. All those prices are exactly the same. Young people are not entitled to discounts on their rent because of their age, and indeed they get less in benefits from this Government as well because of their age, so they are doubly missing out. Young people deserve the right to be paid a fair market value for their skills, and not be subject to state-sponsored age discrimination.

I mentioned unscrupulous employers. When I was at school, it was well known among my peers that some employers would employ young people right up until the point at which they would have to pay them more, and then they would let them go. That is particularly true for people on zero-hours contracts or in precarious employment, who can be let go at a moment’s notice. As soon as an employer has to pay them more, they are shown the door. There is very little by way protection, particularly for young people, who often do not know their rights and cannot afford legal representation to challenge an employer. A few years ago I met a constituent who had been working in a bar when the rate of pay went up. She was pretty sure that she was let go because she was the oldest person employed there, but she could not prove it. This Government are leaving the door open for unscrupulous employers to do that time and again to low-paid workers, often female workers in part-time jobs. This Government are aiding and abetting those unscrupulous employers.

Scotland is the best performing part of the UK when it comes to paying the real living wage. There are 1,363 real living wage employers in Scotland, and I am proud to say that the latest among them in my constituency include the Scottish Fairtrade Foundation, Silver Cloud and the spectacle manufacturer IOLLA, which has a shop in Finnieston. I am proud that those responsible employers are seeing the benefits of paying the real living wage, because it improves retention and morale. However, powers over the minimum wage are not currently devolved; they remain with this Government, who are not interested, frankly, in making the change for young people in this country. If the Minister is not interested in doing this, will she devolve the powers to the Scottish Government and let us get on with the job?