Edinburgh's independent student newspaper

Increase in National and Minimum Wage: why is age discrimination still prevalent?

image shows a clock, the = symbol and the dollar sign
Tuesday 16th November 22.36

As of April 2022, the National Living Wage rate will rise for all working adults aged 23+, from £8.91 to £9.50/hr. This rate of pay is only enforced for employees of a certain age; for younger workers, the National Minimum Wage is in place instead - employees aged between 21 and 22 can expect an increase in minimum rate of pay from £8.36 to £9.18/hr.

There is no doubt that the rise in wages is good news. After a difficult year for many workers, an increase in pay is welcome - and the 6.6% rise in the National Living Wage is astronomical. However, there is an issue. Why is it that individuals of such similar ages are paid so differently? Furthermore, why is there an age-discrimination pay system at all? The difference in the minimum rate of pay between 18 and 23 year olds is just under £3/hr, despite the fact that both are likely to have similar living costs and spending patterns. So why is this not reflected in wage rates?

Some argue that, statistically speaking, those over the age of 23 are more likely to need a stable income to finance a home or start a family, and less likely to benefit from a student loan. This may be true, but there are 18-22 year-olds who are also in this situation, and so changing the rate of pay according to age amounts to discrimination. The terminology used in the pay guidelines highlights the issue further; describing the wage received by 23+ year olds as the National Living Wage, and the amount received by younger employees as the National Minimum Wage suggests that those under the age of 23 are not working to make a living - this is untrue in many cases. 

Every penny of pay can make a difference, as all students will know. Anyone who has ever attempted to find a flat to rent in Edinburgh knows that most properties are highly expensive. A study by the property website Zoopla estimated the current average rent price in the city to be £927/month. For a worker being paid £9.18/hr in a full-time job, this leaves just over £600/month to be spent on heating, electricity, water, WiFi, etc. This is assuming that the student is working full-time, which is difficult to do alongside a degree.

It is one thing to announce an increase in pay for employees, but a different matter to actually see that it is implemented. A 2019 study found that 439,000 employees in the UK were paid under the minimum or living wage for their age bracket. 67% of this figure was made up of workers under the age of 25, which demonstrates the bias against younger age groups.  

Many University of Edinburgh students have spoken out about their experience with this so-called ‘age bias.’ It seems that it is not uncommon for student employees to be paid different rates depending on their age, and these rates are sometimes below the National Minimum Wage. One first-year student explained that there was a discrepancy of more than £2/hr between their and a third-year student’s pay, despite their job titles being identical. However, there are some who have reported the opposite of this - namely, that pay is decided according to role rather than age. 

Pay is a fundamentally important aspect of working life and it can be a delicate subject to discuss. However, we must be aware of the issues surrounding the idea of wages, and speak out about any discrimination or bias that is evident. Whilst a rise in overall pay is something to be celebrated, we must ensure that it does not benefit certain age groups more than others. 

Image via Public Domain Vectors