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The Minimum Wage Of 17-Year-Old UK Residents

What Is The Minimum Wage For 17 Year Olds In The UK

As of 2024, the minimum wage for 17-year-olds in the UK stands at £6.40 per hour, regardless of whether the hours are full, part-time or enrolled in apprenticeships. Typically, minimum wages tend to rise as time goes on due to inflation.

In the UK, 16 is when you’ve reached school leaving age, and from there, how much a young worker is entitled to depends on their age up to 22. This article will explore why the minimum wage system is how it is, the working regulations surrounding young workers, and more.

What Is The UK’s National Minimum Wage, And How Does It Work?

The term minimum wage is often confused with the national living wage when they are two separate things. The minimum wage is a factor that only applies to people ages 16-22. At the age of 21 and above, you begin receiving the national living wage, which is £11.44 per hour.

The minimum wage for 17-year-olds is £6.40 and you may have to pay national insurance and income tax. The national minimum wage was introduced in 1999 to protect workers from being exploited through low wages.

Those eligible for the national minimum wage are the following, provided they are aged between 16-22:

  • Employees – Both full-time and part-time employees aged 16-22.
  • Casual Workers – Workers whose working hours are not fixed, and have no regular pattern of work.
  • Agency Workers – Workers supplied by an agency to a company.
  • Homeworkers – Workers who carry out their work at home, such as teleworkers.
  • Apprenticeships – Apprentices are where the rule differs. A 19-year-old apprentice, or an apprentice who is in their first year, is entitled to an apprentice wage.

 

However, some workers are not entitled to the national minimum wage, such as the following:

  • Self-Employed People – Those who run their own business, or work on contracts not measured in hours (such as creating illustrations for a website).
  • Company Directors – If you’re directing a company, you are not earning a wage.
  • Volunteers – Those working without pay.
  • Workers on government employment programmes – Certain government schemes may come with a different salary system, or none at all.

 

For clarity, here is a table outlining the national minimum wage for every age:

Age GroupRate
23+ (NLW)£11.44
21-22£11.44
18-20£8.60
16-17£6.40
Apprentice£6.40

Why Are 17-Year-Olds Not Entitled To A National Living Wage?

The reasons why the minimum wage for 17-year-olds is much lower than the national living wage are as follows:

Lower Expected Productivity

A young worker is expected to have far less experience with the specific role, but also the mindset and lifestyle of a worker in general. This can result in several issues in a workplace, such as the lowered productivity from the young worker in question having to be remedied by supervision, training and guidance. In essence, young people in the workplace are seen more as an investment than anything else.

This may sound adjacent to discrimination, if not outright, but the government themselves see this as justified. The Low Pay Commission (LPC), which is an independent body that advises the Government on wage distribution, consistently show that young workers are less productive than older workers. A 2020 LPC report found that younger workers take far longer to complete tasks, and have a higher tendency to make errors. This is one of the factors for the government setting the minimum wage for 17-year-olds to be lower.

Encouraging Education and Training

The government, overall, would prefer young people of school age to go on to further train or educate themselves. The lower minimum wage for 17-year-olds is an incentive to go to school, so they can equip themselves with new knowledge or skills to succeed in a competitive job market. This is not only their benefit, but the countries. By growing companies on UK soil, they effectively generate income for the country as a whole.

But outside of the good of the country, research shows that it’s also advantageous for an individual to progress through education or training. Labour Market Value of Higher and Further Education Qualifications in a 2018 survey found that the median annual earnings for those with a Level 4 (higher apprenticeship or HNC) qualification were £26,000, compared to £20,000 for those with Level 2 qualifications (GCSEs). However, Graduates with a first degree earned a median salary of £35,000, while those with a postgraduate degree earned £42,000.

Protecting Youth Employment

The minimum wage for 17-year-olds may be considered low, but it’s a vital way to protect young workers from being passed over for others. In certain industries, the profit margin is so tight that paying a national living wage for workers would be hard on the bottom line, therefore incentivising businesses to either automate tasks, reduce the number of entry-level positions or only hire highly qualified staff. This would be a problem, as there will always be young workers in the market, and having them jobless could potentially lead to social issues.

The LPC found in a 2023 study named “The Impact of Minimum Wage Increases on Youth Employment in the UK” that there is a correlation between increasing minimum wages and lowered youth employment. This is true in every sector, especially in those where young people are traditionally well-represented. As a result, the LPC advises the government to regulate wages with a balanced approach.

Avoiding Wage Compression

When the gaps between low-experience and high-experience workers narrow, wage compression occurs. The overall labour market suffers when this happens, as it essentially disincentivises workers from investing time and effort into gaining skills and experience. If the reward for putting in this time and effort is to be paid a wage that is comparable to someone who just entered the market, then it would be preferable for many to devote their time elsewhere. This inhibits the growth of businesses.

Balancing Work And Education For 17-Year-Old Workers

Upon reaching the minimum school leaving age of 16, young workers are enabled to enter the workforce, but for the many reasons explained above, measures are taken to ensure access to training or education is possible.

The following are some of how this manifests:

  • Term-time restrictions – During term time, an employer is not allowed to set more than 12 hours of work a day, and never before 7 am or after 7 pm. Furthermore, they must ensure at least 12 hours of rest is given per working day.
  • School holiday flexibility – During school holidays, young workers are allowed to work a full 40-hour week if they like, as restrictions relax during these times. Nonetheless, they cannot work for more than that and are entitled to rest breaks.

 

Employment Restriction

There are some jobs, however, where full-time employment, or employment of any kind, is not allowed for people under the age of 18.

  • Types of jobs: 17-year-olds cannot be employed in certain hazardous jobs, such as construction or mining, that could pose a risk to their health and safety.
  • Night work – They are not allowed to work between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am, except in certain areas where special regulations exist, such as a hospital or agricultural work.
  • Exceptional circumstances – Local councils can give out special licenses to 17-year-olds working in sectors such as performing arts or modelling.

 

Your local council or education welfare service will be able to advise you if you’re unsure whether or not a job may fall under these circumstances.

17 Year Old Wages

Conclusion

Overall, the minimum wage for 17-year-olds is not set in stone. It is decided at the end of every tax year, but even then, nothing says that a 17-year-old can’t be earning more than the minimum wage. It’s all about the job role and the skills required.

FAQ: What are the consequences of paying a 17-year-old below their minimum wage?

Underpaying your young workers will result in the following:

  • Legal Fines – Employers who pay below the hourly rate will find themselves in a breach of contract with their employees, and violation of labour laws. HMRC enforces the national minimum and living wage, and if they are notified that an employer is underpaying their workers, they are almost certainly going to impose significant financial penalties calculated on the severity of the offence. Furthermore, they can name and shame your company, which will damage it in the eyes of everyone around them.
  • Back Pay Compensation – A company that underpays employees will likely be ordered to compensate the employees. HMRC sees it as a debt and will enforce it to be paid. If there have been any losses or suffering that has occurred on account of the underpayment, then additional fines may be levied against the company.
  • Criminal Charges – If a company consistently underpays its employees, then the Crown Prosecution Service may levy charges against them that will see them in court.

 

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