I am Vice President at the National Union of Students and before that was President of my students’ union at Bradford College. I’ve been inspired to hear from students up and down the country planning to march with us in London on Saturday 18 October.
When students talk to me about their biggest fears for the future, you’d be surprised to hear how many say just one word: work. Rather than a land of opportunity they were promised, young people back home in Bradford far too often see their futures as a lifetime of struggle just to hold on to low paid and insecure employment. Many students already work on top of their studies to make ends meet, making up for a shortfall in student support or compensating for the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance: students working for poverty pay just to stay the course.
This year, NUS has prioritised fighting for a new deal for work: an economic recovery that works for the next generation, not just those at the top.
Students will be marching on Saturday 18 October for many reasons, but here are three of the best:
1. Equality for Apprentices
Last week the apprentice minimum wage went up. I suppose you’re thinking that’s cause for a party? But what if I told you it went up by just 5p, to £2.73 an hour? That’s less than half the adult minimum wage, or a third of a Living Wage. To add insult to injury, the Government’s own research shows 3 in every 10 apprentices were paid even less than that pathetic minimum wage, and employers are being allowed to get away with it. It’s not right to expect apprentices to work for poverty wages: we need a clampdown on exploitation and a proper pay rise for apprentices.
2. Paid Internships
The idea that young people can work for free for long periods to gain experience blocks all but those from wealthy backgrounds out of key professions that are already dominated by privileged people. Unpaid internships are exploitative, exclusive and unfair. Only by paying interns a fair wage can we build fairer paths into employment.
3. A Living Wage
A fair minimum wage for apprentices and for interns are essential for social justice, but that alone does not go far enough. We need to be bold in our efforts to win a better future for tomorrow’s workers. In-work poverty has increased in the midst of austerity. With the rising cost of living and wages falling in real terms, millions of workers, including students are stuck on low-pay and struggling to pay the bills. That’s why we need to see steps towards our long-term vision of a Living Wage for all.
As growth returns to the UK economy, everyone should get a fairer share in a recovery that puts people first. We need to forge and win a new deal for the next generation. Our future’s at stake and that’s why it’s so important for students to be marching on #18oct.