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Young workers deserve a real living wage

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Britain needs a pay rise. One in five workers are earning below the real living wage, according to new KPMG research. That translates into 5.5 million people struggling to escape in-work poverty.

And Britain’s young workers are at the sharp end of the wage crisis. A quarter of 22-29 year-olds are earning less than the real living wage, and a shocking 66 per cent of 18-21 year-olds don’t reach the threshold. In contrast, 15 per cent of 30-50 year-olds are earning below the real living wage.

Source: KPMG

The real living wage calculated each year based on a basket of typical household goods and services.

If young workers can’t independently meet their rent and bills, growing numbers will inevitably be forced to depend on their parents for support or a place to live. And young people who don’t have the option of family support are highly vulnerable to in-work poverty.

We know that bad bosses think they can get away with ripping off young workers who are eager to get a foot on the career ladder. From unpaid internships, to exploitative apprenticeships, many young workers feel they need to take whatever work they can get.

And the government has reinforced the idea that young workers shouldn’t be paid equally, by creating a lower legal minimum wage for under-25s. 

Good employers need to take a lead on this issue by becoming accredited living wage employers. There’s plenty of evidence that the benefits – in terms of increased productivity and job satisfaction – comfortably outweigh the costs.  

Unions also have a role to play. We know that workers in unionised workplaces are higher paid on average, but young workers are far less likely than any other group to be in low-paid, non-unionised workplaces.

Most don’t have reps, have never had a conversation about joining a union, and see unions as being for other people, not for them.

What’s more, many young workers have such low expectations that they feel they’re lucky to have a job at all, whatever their conditions. Or they say that when they’ve tried to change something in the past, nothing has happened. Nor are they confident about trusting their co-workers.

In the union movement, we’re working on new ways of engaging with young workers.

But employers have to do their part, by recognising young workers’ potential rather than their vulnerability, and paying them a decent wage.

November is the TUC’s Young Workers Month, when we draw attention to the particular challenges facing young people in the workplace, including low pay.

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