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Should your age impact your salary?

There is a contentious topic swirling around the UK market at the moment- the issue of minimum wage. Some are arguing that the current system in place, by which you are paid according solely to your age, is fair and benefits businesses, motivating them to hire young people. Others argue that this system is unfair, suggesting that a more equitable system should be put in place, one where people are paid according to how hard they work and the quality they produce, rather than a factor which they are unable to control.

The current system:

Currently, if you are below 21 in the UK, you are entitled to a lower minimum wage. There is a £3 an hour difference between your wage if you are above, or below the age of 21. Whilst this number may not seem like a large amount in the great scheme of things, when it comes down to the maths, it can be seen that young people earn as much as £159 less per week for doing the exact same job. This seems unfair to everyone. So why is it so hard to make a change to the current system?

The negatives:

If the government were to make a change to the current system of how much young people are paid, although it would close the disparity in pay between age groups, it may impose severe financial burdens on businesses, particularly those that are small. It must be noted that certain industries would be affected more than others, such as hospitality. UKHospitality found that 60% of businesses in the industry make use of the lower minimum wage rates, and so an increase in them could disproportionately affect this industry. Some critics are also concerned that this change could make it harder for young people without qualifications to find a job. Others warn that an increase in minimum wage would price out young workers who perhaps lack higher education qualifications and reduce job opportunities for them. 

The positives:

The other side of the argument surrounding minimum wage is that it would be largely beneficial for many involved to change the current system. Young people who are under the age of 21 would no longer feel their work is unappreciated, and the reverse ageism that is so prevalent in the workforce would be largely expelled. Many suggest that an increase in the national minimum wage would improve staff morale, leading to higher productivity and higher retention rates for businesses. A higher wage is appealing to everyone, particularly young people who are seeking their first job, and if this change were to be made, it would be clear to see that a broader range of talent would be attracted to jobs. Businesses who are ethically and socially responsible for their employees are respected by those who consume or use their products, improving brand reputation and customer loyalty. There are so many advantages to doing this, yet it is not as easy as it sounds to make such a large change to the way young people are paid in the UK.

A new proposal:

Yet here is another thought. What happens if we abandon the idea of age entirely? Rather than gradually increasing one’s wage based on what year they were born, how about we create a system by which everyone is paid according to their contribution to the business. It is undeniable that all of us can imagine a young person who outdoes themselves in every sense in the workplace, exceeding expectations, and producing work of the highest quality, although it may be their first job in the industry. Or, in the same breath, we can think of perhaps a more experienced individual, one who has spent years working in the same position, but still somehow manages to never produce more than a mediocre piece of work, and yet is paid a significant amount more than their young colleague. The system itself is flawed. Arguing about raising the minimum wage of 18 year olds by a couple of pence is not going to change the fundamental issues within the way people are paid. We need to change the narrative surrounding wages, specifically for young people. How well you do your job should be the only factor that determines your wage. If you are a motivated, aspirational 18 year old, you should be paid no less than the motivated, aspirational 21 year old in the same position. We must change the way we value young people in businesses, and use our forward thinking mindsets to change the way we pay them. The world is changing- and we must change with it.