I believe the children are our future…

Carole Murphy discusses the national minimum wage for young people and the impact that this can have on how much our children and young people feel valued and respected.

Glad to be home from a busy day at work and a long journey, I picked up the mail at the front door and headed to the kitchen. I dropped the mail on to the pile of stuff sitting on the bench waiting to be dealt with: school letters, beaver’s information, football details, bills… Then on the top I spotted a leaflet offering cleaning and babysitting. Coming home to a clean house would be amazing! But as I looked round at the strewn football socks, scattered toys, half-empty coffee cups I realised that they would need to see a surface to clean it – maybe one day.

I then noticed the costs of the services being offered. There was quite a significant difference between the cost for someone to clean for an hour and someone to babysit for an hour, but not in the direction I expected. It would cost me £8 an hour for someone to clean my house and £5.50 for someone to look after my two children, working out at £2.75 per hour per child – very cheap (an even better bargain if you have more than two children!).

I immediately thought that I must be mistaken, as the going rate for babysitting eight years ago was £5 per hour. I did a bit of a search on the internet and it seems that the going rate is between £6 and £8 per hour depending on where you live; so slightly higher than the £5/5.50 that seems to be acceptable where I live.

Later on the same evening while flicking through social media, I saw an advert for a dog walker with a rate of £10 per hour, per dog. Again, I had a look on the internet and it seems that this is a common rate; about twice the rate of a registered childminder.

How did we get to the place where we pay far less for someone to take on the important responsibility of looking after our children, than we do to clean our homes and to take our dogs for a walk? Luckily, my children are too young to realise the low monetary value being placed on their care.

Whilst tidying up the scattered mess I found myself thinking about the value we place on the older children that babysit our children. Surely we must need to make sure that we pay at least the minimum wage, which is about £7 per hour, right?

Off I went again to search the internet only to be completely shocked by what I found. The current national minimum wage is indeed around £7, £7.05 to be precise, but only for those aged 21-24. For 18-20 year olds it is £5.60 and for under 18’s a mere £4.05 per hour, and this is only for those of school leaving age. Most of you are likely much more au fait with these issues and not as blissfully ignorant as me, but there are definitely others like me who think the minimum wage for everyone is about £7. Despite double and triple checking my searches, the same amounts kept appearing. I would gladly be told I am mistaken.

Not until you are 25 or over are you entitled to the national living wage, but as the Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative have identified “workers in Scotland must earn £8.75 p/h if they are to make ends meet with dignity”. I am sure that there are many employers who provide the living wage for employees of all ages, but I am also certain there will be many who don’t. How many young people are unable to make ends meet with dignity?

The fight for equal pay for women continues and it is warned by some that it will take 100 years to close the gender pay gap. In defence of the gender pay gap it is often argued that the demands of the job are different. Does this argument also apply to young people? Or are some young people earning less than adults for doing exactly the same job?

If I was a 17 year old being offered £4.05 to do the same job, in the same conditions, facing the same workforce dynamics, as a 25 year old who is earning twice that; would I do the job? Would I feel valued for the work I was doing? Would I be motivated to do a good job? No. Would I feel respected? Absolutely not. I can certainly think of a few other ways I would choose to spend my time rather than work in those conditions, so I have massive regard for those young people who do.

On the plus side, at least this system seems to recognise that you are not a ‘full-blown’ adult until you are 25, which is in keeping with what we now know about the length of time it takes our brains to fully mature. Nonetheless, the system still expects those under 25, and those under 18, to be responsible and achieving like adults, just for a lot less money. Although is this really surprising when we can’t even agree in legislation who children are?

I think as a society we still have a considerable way to go in helping our children and young people feel valued and respected; one of the key components of wellbeing. Maybe once we achieve this we will see improvements in other areas of wellbeing. What if we shorten the fight for equality and respect for others by modelling it to the future leaders of our country? We could all be better off if we did – not just financially!

About our blogger

Carole Murphy is a Practice Development Advisor with CYCJ. Find out more.

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Children's and Young People's Centre for Justice
University of Strathclyde
Lord Hope Building, Level 6
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