Despite the introduction of the living wage back in 2016, which was aimed at ensuring young people were guaranteed the bare minimum salary needed to live, the earnings gap between young and old workers has continued to grow.Critics of the living wage would point out that the scheme was a red herring anyway – anyone under 25 doesn’t qualify. Additionally, some young people under the qualifying age have actually seen their wages drop. Another problem is that the living wage doesn’t actually provide most people with enough to live on in real terms, despite its name.
Recently, the TUC reported that the pay gap between the old and young has increased 50% in the last 20 years. This, coupled with the aforementioned problems with the living wage, is leaving the country’s working young in a precarious and dangerous situation.
Falling Union Membership
Traditionally, the role of unions has been to protect workers from these kinds of dangers, but the TUC has noted that the amount of young people in unions is in steady decline. While there is no doubt, incentive for the TUC to encourage more young people to join to increase their member base, the lack of representation for young workers is certainly a concern.
In order to get a better sense of the issue, the TUC set up a report that, over 18 months, gathered information from young private sector workers. The results show that overall, young workers these days are much worse off than their older counterparts.
“Stuck at the Start” Report
The report found young workers face five main issues:
- They are disproportionately affected by wage stagnation.
- Young workers are concentrated in low paying jobs.
- They lack access to skills development.
- They are especially vulnerable to insecure work.
- Young workers don’t have a voice at work.
Furthermore, the TUC report also states that on average, older workers are £95 a week better off than they were 20 years ago. Younger workers, on the other hand, are only £42 better off in comparison. The report also found that:
- Job growth has been much slower or young workers over the last 20 years, compared to older workers.
- Nearly 17% of full time young workers are not offered any training in their current roles. This rises to 37% for zero hour contract workers.
- Last year, 41% of young workers had to ask family or friends for financial help, with 22% going without heating because of money issues.
This worrying trend points towards an exploited and underpaid workforce. The TUC report recommends that the living wage for 25 year old be increased, as well as being accessible to workers a few years younger. The report also recommends having more support services in place for young workers.
In response to their findings, the TUC has started to roll out a new app called WorkSmart. The app will aim to provide young workers with all the information they might need with regards to the working world, including information on rights and pay.
The TUC also hopes the app will help young workers band together when necessary to fight unfair working conditions. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented that: “..unions need to reach out to the young workers in workplaces where there isn’t a union. WorkSmart is a new way to get the benefits of trade unions to the young workers who need us most.”.
While the action taken by the TUC could certainly help the situation, it could be argued that the ultimate onus lies on both the government and employers to provide fairer working conditions for the under 25 workforce.