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Plans to extend minimum wage to under-18s are a pipe dream

Once again, the Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, is fluttering its eyes toward the young people of this country. Earlier this month, Labour announced its plans to abolish the “youth rate” of minimum wage, ending a practice of workplace “discrimination” that prevents young workers from being “properly valued”, according to the leader of the Labour Party.

Currently, the national minimum wage in the United Kingdom is staggered on the basis of age. As of April 2019, workers under the age of eighteen are entitled to just £4.35 an hour. The minimum wage for eighteen to twenty-year-olds is just £6.15 an hour, while those aged between twenty-one an twenty-four are entitled to a minimum of £7.70 an hour. Once workers reach the age of twenty-five, the minimum wage is raised to £8.21 an hour.

Under the current system, the rates are reviewed at the end of each financial year by the government, which is organised by the independent Low Pay Commission. Constituted of an eclectic mix of trade unionists, businesspeople and academics, the commission supports the current minimum wage system based on “evidence that younger workers are more at risk to being priced out of jobs than older workers.”

Corbyn’s pledge to raise the minimum wage for young workers would change the lives of many Warwick students, but the Labour Party is no closer to being in government than they were in 2010

Until now, it had been unclear as to whether the Labour Party was committed to abolishing the staggered minimum wage system. In 2017, the Labour Party’s general election manifesto pledged to raise the national minimum wage to £10 an hour, but did not address the issue of workers under the age of twenty-five specifically. Corbyn’s announcement has ended that ambiguity. For too long, Westminster has treated young people with contempt. As Corbyn put it, “equal pay for equal work is hardly a controversial idea, so why are we discriminating against young people?”

Politicians, for decades, have brushed the concerns of young voters aside because of our dastardly inability to participate in elections. Since rising to power in 2010, the Conservatives have treated the young people of this country abysmally. While speaking at an event at the University of Southampton in 2010, David Cameron said that “we must… keep bursaries and expand bursaries.” By 2016, the Conservatives, now free from the shackles of coalition government, had axed bursaries for training nurses, and maintenance grants for students had been abolished.

Under the stewardship of Michael Gove, then Secretary of State for Education, the Conservatives performed root and branch upheaval on the education system. Placing additional – and entirely unnecessary – demands on students and teachers from the age of seven onward. Meanwhile, tuition fees are on the rise during a period where some students are forced to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

Jeremy Corbyn is selling us a dream, while simultaneously facilitating our worst nightmare

For so long, the concerns of students have been ignored, down-played and depoliticised by our representatives in Westminster. So, has the time now come for student-orientated policies to make a splash in Parliament? I remain pessimistic.The economics behind Corbyn’s uniform minimum wage pledge have been subject to stern critique from business leaders. Matthew Percival, a leading figure within the Confederation of British Industry, stressed his view that the minimum wage should not be used as a “political football” and that “youth rates play an important role in helping reduce youth unemployment.” Small businesses are also fearful of Corbyn’s proposition, with one Staffordshire businessperson speculating that the policy “can’t be affordable” to independent businesses.

Brexit has shaken our political system to the core. Ahead of the European Elections on 23rd May, the Brexit Party have surged to an impressive lead in the polls, with some firms suggesting that the Conservatives will sink to fifth in the popular vote. Amid this political turmoil, the concerns of students will once again be tossed to one side. I welcome Labour’s pledge to raise the minimum wage for young workers; once again, Corbyn has no chance of actually implementing his agenda. Labour’s prospects of winning a general election under Jeremy Corbyn have disintegrated. The days of chanting “oh, Jeremy Corbyn” at Glastonbury have gone. Corbyn’s pledge to raise the minimum wage for young workers would change the lives of many Warwick students, but the Labour Party is no closer to being in government than they were in 2010.

Jeremy Corbyn is selling us a dream, while simultaneously facilitating our worst nightmare. If Brexit comes to pass, young people will be further away from a fair deal than we have been this century. Corbyn’s pledge is designed to distract us from the greatest political crisis of our time. The Labour Party can have Brexit, or it can have young votes. Corbyn must learn that he cannot have both.

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