As one of Parliament’s youngest MPs I have spent my first year in the role with a growing sense of anger at the way in which the government treats people of my generation.
In the last year alone we have seen decisions taken to scrap university maintenance grants, remove nurses bursaries, and now we know that George Osborne’s new ‘living wage’ will not apply to workers under 25 as they have been described as not “productive” enough.
From April this year under 25s on low wage jobs began to earn less per hour than their older colleagues; even those who were performing the same role. There is currently a 50p per hour difference in the minimum rate for those over 25 years of age and those younger than 25. The Low Pay Commission predict that this will rise to a difference of £1.21 per hour by October 2020. For the first time since the minimum wage was introduced in 1999 under 25s are now viewed as a distinct, and less deserving, group.
It is a situation which is almost unique to Britain with only Greece having a similar age threshold in the entire developed world. France pays the full rate from 18 onwards, as does Germany, and even in the USA there is no age threshold apart from the option to pay workers under the age of 20 a lower rate for their first few months of employment.
There is little public support for this approach. A recent poll found that 66% of respondents believed that the same minimum wage rate should apply to under 25s. Even amongst Conservative supporters 55% supported an equal wage for under 25s compared to 35% who did not.
The Conservatives are powering ahead with this change in the misguided belief that it will reduce youth unemployment. When I asked the Leader of the House Chris Grayling to explain this policy at a recent debate he replied that “it is important to do everything we can to incentivise employers to take on young people”.
There are serious flaws with this strategy for helping the young not least the fact that employers that actively seek to recruit under 25s in order to cut wage costs risk falling foul of age discrimination legislation.
Any employer interviewing for a role is legally required to choose the best candidate for the position regardless of age. The monetary ‘incentive’ that Chris Grayling believes will persuade employers to hire younger candidates can only be acted on if the employer discriminates against the older applicants.
These concerns are echoed by the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) who told the Low Pay Commission that “our survey data suggests that some businesses may focus their recruitment on the under 25s. However by doing this they run the risk of potentially breaching age discrimination legislation, which should lead many employers to re-evaluate this stance.”
It can only be described as shambolic when the FSB feel compelled to advise their members to avoid acting on ‘incentives’ which are a key plank of the government’s strategy for tackling youth unemployment.
3.44m young people could be affected by these lower wage rates and it is an absolute outrage that they have been told they are not worth £7.20 an hour. Youth unemployment is a huge problem but debt and low wages are not the solution.
In June I organised a debate on this issue to hold the Government to account with Minister Nick Boles responding to my concerns. MPs from across the political spectrum voiced their concerns at this unfairness. You can read my full speech here.
 Pg151 National Minimum Wage Low Pay Commission Report Spring 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/519773/National_Minimum_Wage_Low_Pay_Commission_Spring_2016.pdf
 Pg 100 National Minimum Wage Low Pay Commission Report Spring 2016
 Survation for Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/09/26/poll-under-25s-should-be-given-national-living-wage_n_8194992.html
 National Minimum Wage Low Pay Commission Report Spring 2016