The minimum wage: majority oppose the banding of wage by age

Fintan SmithPolitical Researcher
July 29, 2021, 9:14 AM UTC

The minimum wage was first introduced in the UK under Tony Blair in 1999 with the aim of cracking down on the exploitation of low paid employees. Since then, the minimum wage has risen from £3.60 per hour in 1999, to its current rate of £8.91 in April, for those aged 23 and over.

The minimum wage is not the same for everyone however. For those between 21 and 22 the minimum wage is 55p lower than it is for those 23 and over, at £8.36 per hour, while for those aged between 18 and 20 it is £2.34 lower, at £6.56 per hour.

Many argue that the minimum wage is not in fact enough to live on, arguing instead for a ‘living wage’ of £9.50 an hour (£10.85 an hour in London) and against the banding of wage by age. Now new YouGov data finds that a plurality believe that the minimum wage should be higher, and a majority oppose the banding of wage by age.

Do Brits still support the idea of a minimum wage?

When it comes to general support for the minimum wage, support is near universal. Only 5% of Brits oppose the minimum wage policy, with 89% supporting it. Majority support is seen across all political and demographic groups.

Is it right to set the minimum wage lower for younger people?

Most Britons who support having a minimum wage say the minimum wage should be set at the same rate for those between 18 and 22 as it is for those aged 23 and over (63%). Only 18% believed it should be lower, with 12% believing it should in fact be higher for those under 23. Views differ across party affiliation: one in four Conservative voters (25%) say that the minimum wage should be lower for 18-22 year olds compared to half as many Labour (12%) and Lib Dem (14%) voters.

Why do some believe that the minimum wage for younger people should be lower?

In 2015, then junior minister Matt Hancock caused quite a stir by claiming that young people were not as productive at work as older people and therefore did not deserve to be paid the same. When asked why they believe younger people should be paid less, a majority of that 18% who believe the minimum wage should be lower for younger people agree with Hancock - 56% feel that younger people are not as good at their jobs as older people.

The next most common reason for their view is that young people don’t need the same amount of money as older people because they have fewer responsibilities (48%), followed by the idea that it gives young people an advantage when applying for jobs (36%). Only 15% are motivated by the idea that it helps businesses to thrive by decreasing staffing costs.

At what rate should the minimum wage be set?

When we asked the specific rate that people who support having a minimum wage think it should be set at for the current age categories, we found that a large proportion (48-51%) are unsure. But across all three, the median answer from those who did give a number was the same: £10 an hour.

In fact, almost all of those who came up with a number gave a figure higher than the current minimum wage for each group. Just 2-6% suggested a value that would represent a cut for minimum wage workers. This could indicate widespread support for increasing the minimum wage, although it is not clear how many are aware what the current rate is.

See the full results here