Why we should have the Living Wage and Not the Minimum Wage

16 October 2014

Living Wage Foundation logoLewisham Green Party's Andrea Carey-Fuller writes about the need for a living wage and the inequality of the minimum wage.

Did you know that young people aged between 18 and 20 continue to be discriminated against by our current Government's policy to give them less of a minimum wage? The new minimum wage levels from 1st October 2014 are £6.50 an hour for those over the age of 20 and £5.13 an hour if you are 18-20 years old! This means that based on a 40 hour week, young people are losing out on £55 per week which is nearly £240 per month less. This doesn't make any sense when you consider that 18-20 year olds aren't given any special discount on housing, food, clothing or transport costs; so why should they continue to be discriminated against in this way? Perhaps it is based on some old-fashioned assumption that only young people of this age group are living at home and don't need to 'pay their way' - what utter nonsense this is and totally illogical when you consider that adults well into their 30's and sometimes even into their early 40's may be forced to continue to live at home because of unaffordable private rental property prices, and getting a step onto the housing ladder is totally out of their reach, and when you take into account the high living costs these days. Most of the young people I know, leave home at 18 to either live near a College or University or to house or flat share with a partner, or a friend if they are working.

Whatever illogical arguments and reasons the Government may have used to make this arbitrary decision they go against the whole principle of the Equality Act (not only are young people entitled to lower wages in the eyes of the Government - they are entitled to less of an increase from the previous year - 18-20 year olds have only received an increase of 2% whilst 20+yr olds minimum wage rate has increased by 3% since last year!) which makes age discrimination in this way illegal.  The answer to this inequality and to enable everyone working from the youngest working age is for the Government to replace the minimum wage with a Living Wage.

The Green Party was the first political party to argue for a Living Wage. In Lewisham it was Green Party Councillors who persuaded the Labour Mayor and his Labour Councillors to support their motion for all Lewisham Council employees, and for all the contractors used by the Council to pay their employees a living wage. Compared to the minimum wage the living wage, is a wage which helps everyone to be able to 'live' on that wage as opposed to being on the minimum wage breadline! The living wage only has two rates - a London rate which is £8.80 per hour (recognising the higher costs of housing and transport in London), and an outside of London rate which is £7.65 an hour. 82 out of the 400 Councils in England and Wales currently pay a living wage.

This is a good start, but in order to persuade more businesses to adopt the living wage we need Central Government to amend its wage policy. The Mayor of Lewisham should adopt Unison's Ethical Care Charter which Islington and Southwark Borough Council's have adopted which would ensure that all care providers are paid a living wage (amongst other practices which forbid using zero hours contracts), in addition to ensuring that all traineeships are paid at a living wage rate.

If the UK was a living wage nation, people aged 18-20 who are working on a minimum wage in London, would be £150 per week better off and those aged 20 and over would be £92 per week better off.  If we had a living wage people we wouldn't need so many top up benefits, people would have more opportunity, dignity and freedom to live the lives they want to live.  The Green Party are pushing for a living wage of £10 per hour by 2020.  We all need to get behind this campaign for the Living Wage for all.  Campaign to your local Council, urge your MP to get on board - everyone deserves a decent standard of living and most importantly we would stop the continuing discrimination against people below the age of 20.

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