Under 25s Benefit Rates Need Equalising Just like Wages

Philip Hammond Budget 2018
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This week saw the annual rise of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Living Wage (NLW). While a rise for low paid workers is always welcome, those aged under 25 may be feeling short changed. After all, they get less than their elders despite doing the same job. The same also applies to under 25s on benefits but they get much less airtime or support.

Last time I checked there weren’t special price tags in supermarkets for under 25s or landlords offering young people lower rents. So why in 2019 are we still treating our young adults as less worthy?

Why are we still attaching monetary values to people?

Labour have spoken up in defence of workers aged under 25 and their current manifesto pledge should they be elected commits them to;

“Raise the Minimum Wage to the level of the Living Wage (expected to be at least £10 per hour by 2020) – for all workers aged 18 or over, so that work pays.”

Whilst this is a great start however, those aged under 25 on benefits, don’t enjoy the same treatment from Labour or any other party.

Benefit Inequality

The freeze on working age benefits announced in the 2015 Budget means that there has been no increase in benefit rates for four years ‘for people of working age’. This affects Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Housing Benefit, Universal Credit, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Child Benefit.

So despite the cost of living rising, benefit claimants are expected to survive on the same amount. It is due to end in 2020 but promises have been broken before so lets wait and see.

That’s bad enough but it gets worse if you’re aged under 25. You get paid less just as young workers on the minimum wage do.

For example, here are the monthly amounts claimants on Universal Credit receive based on their relationship status and/or are;

  • Single under 25 – £251.77
  • Single over 25 – £317.82
  • Couple under 25 – £395.20
  • Couple over 25 – £498.89

A single claimant under 25 gets £66.05 less purely because of their birth year. In a so-called developed country it seems archaic that such a policy exists but not one political party has committed to changing this.

Then you look at the couples rate and wonder why it’s decided they need £103.69 less to survive on? Food prices aren’t determined by age so why are benefits?

Couples are also entitled to less housing benefit if they’re younger which will no doubt be leading to some people incurring rent arrears.

The practice of paying young people less stems from 1960s thinking. It’s assumed that they can live at home with their parents who will also support them financially.

That type of thinking deserves to stay in the 60s. It is no longer relevant in many cases.

Work Always Trumps Welfare

Every political party in the UK promotes improving workers rights in some way. With Labour it is the above mentioned policy and their call to ban zero hour contracts.

The Conservatives boast about record low unemployment and an increased personal tax allowance.

The SNP have changed income tax bands so that low paid workers benefit. They cannot alter working age benefit rates though. They are reserved to Westminster. They can top them up but, they shouldn’t be responsible for that unless they are given full control of the benefits.

The common denominator here is that it is work, work, work. Workers rights are always placed above those of benefit claimants. I’m not saying they don’t value them at all, SNP and Labour have very good welfare policies but worker still come first.

Time for Change

Radical change is needed to how politicians approach welfare and work issues. Work is important yes but, so is supporting those who are looking for work and, even more so those unable to work.

Equalisation of pay rates needs to be across the board on wages AND benefits. Otherwise it sends a clear message to young people in the welfare system that they don’t matter as much.

Poverty is on the rise in the UK with destitution at unprecedented levels. An extra £66 a month may not sound like a lot but when you’re struggling to survive it’s like winning the lottery.

Why should a child be facing a harder start in life because their parent(s) are under 25? We need to support young families not put up barriers.

I urge everyone to contact their local MP asking them to call for benefits and wages to be equalised for those under 25. Lets bring them in from cold.