The answer to my earlier question “Will the Lib Dems finally get serious about taxation this morning?” was sadly no. With housing now more of an issue than it was in 2005, expect local income tax, which seemed to do us almost as much harm as good, to start actively damaging us as Labour and the Tories start writing to first time buyers about how the Lib Dems will both make their first home even more unaffordable. I’m sure these people, who claim to be having more visits to their website at the moment than ever, will be most receptive.
Meanwhile, we are to have another debate this afternoon on poverty. One of the main topics of debate will be whether or not to drop the Lib Dems’ longstanding commitment to have a single minimum wage rate regardless of age. I spent much of this morning handing out flyers, and had an odd sense of deja vu: 9 years ago I was standing in the same spot handing out remarkably similar flyers. The difference is, back then I was doing it for LDYS; oddly LDYS don’t appear to give two hoots about this issue any more.
The argument being used for differential age rates is that we should be encouraging younger people to stay in education and training. Apparently, the siren call of Â£5.35 an hour will tempt them to abandon personal development in favour of making a quick buck. Perhaps if the education and training that we offer them were rather better, they would be less tempted; either way my recollection of being that age was that the actual hourly rate was rather less attractive than the prospect of getting paid. So I was happy to do a Saturday job in the early nineties for a couple of pounds an hour, and when I took a year off (fully intending to go on to HE) I didn’t particularly mind being paid Â£3.50 an hour full time when I was 18.
Either way, I’m not convinced this is economically sound. If you give companies providing low skilled jobs a clear profit motive to employ 16 year olds, they will employ 16 year olds. Supply has a habit of following demand. On the other hand, if you only had a single hourly rate, companies would surely favour older, more mature applicants.
The bottom line is, this is exploitation pure and simple. That may not bother the Labour Party, but it should bother us. On the same basis you could argue that we should deny minimum wage to immigrants (and then wonder why they continued to come). You could argue that differential age rates should apply to black people on the basis that we want to encourage them to continue with training and education because they face discrimination in the workplace. If that sounds bogus, it’s because it is bogus. What is so magical about age?
I repeat: if you want to encourage young people to continue with training and education, make that training and education mean something. At a time when female politics graduates actually earn less than if they’d started work after their A-levels, I’m not sure you can say we’re doing that.
(I wanted to add this funky public information film here, but annoyingly the archive doesn’t include an embedding facility and I don’t have time to plonk it on YouTube).