Last week Boris Johnson announced a significant increase in the Living Wage to £7.65 in the UK and £8.80 in London. This is a welcome announcement following recent research from KMPG, suggesting that nearly three-quarters of young people aged 18 to 21 in the country are earning below this level.
The number of people surviving below the cost-of-living benchmark, has risen by 400,000 in a year, with young people amongst those worst hit. How can we justify a system where people who are in full-time employment still need to claim state benefits, or still require financial support from their family? The research highlights the sad fact that employers and businesses in this country are not paying their young people fairly. There is strong evidence of this within the arts industry, with a proliferation of unpaid internships. It is a practice which requires urgent action.
News about unpaid interns, 'volunteers', who are working full-time, or apprentices earning less than minimum wage are a real scourge in the arts industry. Young people are the lifeblood of the creative industries and it isn't an excuse to offer substandard pay rates simply because positions are oversubscribed. It is vital to nurture the skills of our up and coming talent to maintain our world-class reputation in the arts.
The arts industry must stamp out this practice to afford opportunities for the brightest and best young people and to invest in the skills of the next generation.
At Creative & Cultural Skills, we applaud those businesses that have signed up to become Living Wage Employers. It shows a real leadership to their industries and they are sure to reap the benefits long-term by attracting the brightest young talent. Businesses across all industries should be striving towards this goal.
Critics of the Living Wage claim that smaller businesses will struggle to meet the costs associated with the rise in wages for staff. However, in the creative and cultural industries, funding is available from a number of sources including the Creative Employment Programme, which helps businesses apply for wage contributions for apprentices and paid internships. This funding alone won't bring apprentices up to the Living Wage, but it makes a substantial contribution.
In the creative sector, businesses should, at very least, be looking to pay their interns and apprentices minimum wage. As Karren Brady commented, recently, on her Huffington Post blog, "What we need is simple: businesses to recognise that those under 25 could become a talent pool that will help them grow."
As the nation turns to recovery, one of the hidden weapons of growth is the creative and cultural industries. Their contribution to the UK economy is £70,000 every minute, but this could just be the start of it. The talents of young people across the spectrum of the creative and cultural industries are a powerful asset and should contribute to national growth.
Young people are not only vital to the industry but to the UK's economic growth and they deserve to be recognised. If businesses continue to unfairly pay young people, we will lose our brightest talent.