Will Cameron freeze the minimum wage?

There is evidence that a reduced minimum wage would boost youth employment.

Today's Telegraph reports on speculation that David Cameron is considering freezing the minimum wage in an attempt to "encourage employers to hire more staff". The government is expected to make a formal announcement in two months, with the separate minimum wage rates for young people most likely to be frozen.

Although most of the left won't accept it, there is a reasonable discussion to be had about the effect of the minimum wage on youth unemployment. The Low Pay Commission, the body that advises ministers on the subject, recently noted "evidence that in difficult economic circumstances the level of the minimum wage may have had an impact on the employment of young people". International experience suggests that a minimum wage that is 50 per cent of the average wage is harmful to employment. But the rate for 18-20 year olds (£4.08 an hour) is currently 65 per cent of the mean wage and the rate for 16-18 year olds (£3.68) is 76 per cent.

At a time of high inflation (the annual rate of inflation is falling but prices are still rising by 3.6 per cent), freezing the minimum wage should be a last resort. But with youth unemployment running at over a million, the left can't afford to be dogmatic. We should go wherever the evidence leads.

As the Marxist economist Chris Dillow has noted:

The fact that jobs have been created since the introduction of the minimum wage is ... irrelevant. The test of the effect of the minimum wage is not: how many jobs have been created since it began? It's: how many jobs would have been created, had we not had a minimum wage?

If the Low Pay Commission concludes that a lower minimum wage would increase youth employment, then a temporary freeze may be the lesser of two evils.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood