Youth unemployment in the UK is at a record high, with nearly a million 16 to 24-year olds out of work – 20.5% of that age group. Around 600,000 of them have never worked at all.
Youth unemployment is particularly worrying. If young people cannot get a job and learn work skills, and the basic habits of work, it blights their whole lives. Sadly, too few youngsters are not getting into the work stream but instead are getting drawn into the welfare stream. Instead of learning about life in work, they are learning about life on benefits.
Youth unemployment – and the same is true of immigrants and other minority groups – is always worst when times are hard. Employers keep the best workers and shed the labour they do not value so much. And the fact is that young people are just not worth as much to employers as older workers. They may have no marketable skills. They will have little or no experience of how workplaces operate. They might, after a decade and a half of state education, even lack basic life skills.
And yet government regulation forces employers to pay not less than £4.92 per hour for 18 to 20-year-olds and £5.93 for those 21 and above. It is plain that many employers think a large proportion of young people are just not worth that amount of money to them. Particularly when other employment legislation adds to their costs even more, and makes it almost impossible to get rid of workers they find they don’t need. No wonder they aren’t hiring.
It’s time to scrap the minimum wage for young people. It just prices them out of jobs, so does them no good at all. For them, low-paid work is a way of building up some human capital that will make it easier to find a better job. But we stop them even getting that work at all – and all in the name of protecting workers.