Undervalued and Underpaid — The Next Generation

Undervalued and underpaid, simple words to describe a percentage of the next generation of young people in unfair employments circumstances.

According to research made by the Young Women’s Trust one in five young people are illegally being paid less than the National Minimum Wage, which is £8.91 for 23 and over, £8.36 for 21 to 22, £6.56 for 18 to 20 and £4.62 for Under 18s and £4.30 for Apprentices, London being the worst affected area by this research.

A study of more than 4,000 people aged 18 to 30 by the Young Women’s Trust found those in London were most likely to report being underpaid, while those in the East Midlands were least likely. The issue disproportionately affects black people, the survey revealed, with 25% reporting illegally low wages. The Young Women’s trust’s chief executive, Carole Easton, said: “Paying young people less than the minimum wage is not just illegal, it is immoral. Low wages are leaving many unable to afford the basics. When the bus to work or an hour’s childcare cost more than an hour’s wages, it’s no wonder so many young workers are falling into debt and resorting to food banks.”

Another survey conducted on 330 students showed that 74% of them had experienced exploitative, abusive or harassing behaviour in their first job. These stats not only shows immoral treatment of young workers but also the dangers that come along side being young and in unfair work circumstances. By law, young people are only allowed to work full-time from the school-leaving age of 16. At ages 15 to 16 the maximum hours a young person can work is forty hours per week, during the summer holidays the maximum is reduced to thirty- five hours nor before 7am or after 7pm.

In 2020, there were estimated to be 6 million UK private sector businesses. 1.4 million of these had employees and 4.6 million had no employees. Research found that the Living Wage Foundation calculated that there are only 8,202 (eight thousand two hundred and two) Accredited Living Wage Employers. This raises questions as to why are more businesses not going forth with this accreditation?

IKEA made a statement regarding their London Living Wage Journey and said:

“Introducing the Living Wage Is not only the right thing to do for our co-workers; It also makes good business sense. This is a long-term investment in our people based on our values and our belief that a team with good compensation and working conditions is in a position to provide a great experience to our customers.”

When a workplace comes to mind, the words values, policies and team do also…so why are young people having such unsafe experiences? Youth clubs such as the Legendary Community Club aim to raise awareness on this unfair practice towards young people. A few actions LCC have taken this year to advocate for young people’s employment rights are raising awareness on the statistics that affect our community and speaking to local council. Change is on the way as the Legendary Community Club were able to employ seven young people, paying them the London Living Wage: £10.85 under the Holidays and Activities Scheme 2021 for the Easter. After a successful Easter programme LCC has gone on to employ a further twenty-five young people also being paid at the London Living Wage for the Summer Holidays and Activities Programme in conjunction with the local council and a scheme sponsored by MBE and footballer Marcus Rashford.

An interview took place with some of the young people who took part in the HAF 2021 scheme, one participant expressed “it meant a lot because it helped me support my family and myself”. One young woman interviewed expressed that “If young people are not paid a fair salary there is no motivation to work, a lot of people’s lives would not get fulfilled to what they are capable of because of the lack of opportunities which I see a lot around” , “ If there was an LCC (legendary community club) in every borough, there wouldn’t be any problems for young people, they would be doing alright ”, another stated that the opportunities provided by LCC was simply “Iconic”. The voices of young people should be heard and if according to many, simply paying the London Living Wage means changing the lives of young people and their families, what are the restrictions in doing so?

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green. said: “No child should go hungry over the holidays, but the Government is blocking the action needed to prevent this. “We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue.

This Issue has been ongoing according to extensive analysis made by Paul Gregg and Emma Tominey, CMPO and Department of Economics, The University of Bristol, in February 2004, over 17 years ago. The summary paper was titled “The Wage Scar from Youth Unemployment” which proved that “an econometric problem exists whereby the fixed individual characteristics which make someone prone to unemployment as a youth, will also drive later unemployment and poor wages”. Some of their results at the time were that young women by aged 23 whom spent no time in unemployment reported their earnings as £5.68 whilst 23-year-old women who had spent 1–2 months in unemployment earnings were reported at £5.55, 23 year olds who had spent 3–4 months unemployed : £5.10, 5–6 months £5.00 per hour, 7–12 months of youth unemployment earned £4.79 at age 23 and young women at 23 years old with an experience of more than 13 months unemployment reported their wage at £4.10 per hour.

These results upheld Paul Gregg and Emma Tomineys claim that unfair work opportunities for people in their youth consequently resulted in a “Wage Scar”, lower pay or long-term unemployment for young people during their work life experience. This is a clear ripple effect and could be seen as a contribution to generational poverty. These statistics were shared over 17 years ago yet today young people and adults are reporting further unfair treatment and the London Living Wage is not a legal requirement, rather a recommendation. Research undertaken should be taken into consideration, young people should be treated in alignment with human rights and employment law and unfair treatment should not be overlooked.

Organisations such as LCC, Ikea, Oxfam, Burberry, Nationwide, Nestle, Aviva and Queen Marys University, Youth First have all committed to tackling low pay by paying real London Living Wage, this is just a start to challenge the cliché of undervalued and underpaid young people.

I Angel Beddelem is a Gen Z campaigner, and an aspiring journalist whose work can be found at Inayiabeddelem1.journoportfolio.com

29/07/2021