Young Workers Hit Hard During Pandemic

The pandemic continues to exacerbate a plethora of issues across society from public health to education and through to how we structure and administer our benefits system. Another of the many issues that have been further exposed due to COVID-19 is the widespread ill-treatment of young workers in terms of pay, job insecurity, and the spread of precarious ‘gig-economy‘ work.

The 2020 Trade Union Congress Young Workers Month fall at a difficult time for young workers. Between July-September 2020 the number of young people in employment has fallen by 306,000 compared to the previous quarter, the amount economically inactive is over 200,000, and the number claiming unemployment-related benefits has risen 120%. Across Worcestershire, the numbers of young people claiming the likes of Universal Credit make grim reading, with Wychavon District Council seeing a 229% increase, Bromsgrove 159%, and Worcester 137%.

Why there has been such a staggering effect on young people, in particular, is clear: young people make up the majority of the workforces in the U.K’s most badly-hit industries. For example, School and University leavers have for years been the backbone of the hospitality industry which has been decimated in 2020.

Even the support available to those young workers that have found themselves on furlough has been pitiful. The Living Wage Foundation has calculated that a real living wage (an hourly amount someone needs to earn to be able to cover their household bills) is £9.50 an hour. Currently, the Minimum Wage for over 25s is £8.72 and £8.20 for those under 25. Firstly, is there an under-25 discount at supermarkets? Are rent and household bills reduced for under-25s? So why are they expected to earn less for doing the same work? Additionally, this means those young people on furlough are being paid £6.56 an hour—close to £3 less than the hourly wage needed to adequately cover someone’s priority costs. This misery is compounded in the fact that single people under 25 claiming Universal Credit receive £67.17 less than those over 25 and couples under 25 being awarded £105.45 less (this is in addition to the fact it is increasingly difficult to receive the benefit whilst enrolled on a full-time education course).

This is on top of the fact that 36% of people on “zero-hours contracts” are aged 16 to 24 years, which again highlights the insecurity that young workers faced even before the pandemic. Sadly these trends look to continue despite young people being key to Britain’s ‘key worker’ workforce in supermarkets and elsewhere. Sadly whilst young people face the brunt of this uncaring government, union density amongst under-24s is extremely low. Union membership between 16-19-year-olds dropped by more than half between 2008 and 2017, from 4.4% to 2%. With only 10.5% of workers aged 20-24 unionised also, it is vitally important that young workers are members of unions to ensure they have a fighting chance against unscrupulous employers. As can be seen from the below graph from the U.S, the importance of working people being unionised is paramount:

https://oxfamblogs.org/mindthegap/2015/04/17/graphs-of-the-day-on-labour-unions-and-income-inequality/

The success of young workers organising can be seen in some of the incredible industrial action victories seen with McDonalds workers in the McStrike and the Wetherspoon’s employers’ Spoons Strike. That is why the TUC Young Workers Month is so important. Young people need not just the support from a union when things go wrong at work, but the ongoing feeling that they are part of a wider workers’ movement that is working to fight back against low pay, poor terms & conditions, and unscrupulous employers. If you are interested in getting involved in any of the events that the TUC are putting on this month, please follow the below links:

If you want to share your story about being a young worker during the pandemic, please get contact us on worctransformed@gmail.com

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