The apprentice minimum wage is not sufficient enough to cover living costs, according to a report that says pay should be increased for apprentices aged 18 and over.
A Sheffield Hallam University study, commissioned by the Low Pay Commission and published during National Apprenticeship Week, gathered the experiences of those paid the national minimum wage apprenticeship rate (NMWAR) to find out whether they earned enough to get by, particularly adult apprentices living independently.
Apprentices are entitled to the NMWAR if they are aged under 19, or 19 and over and in the first year of their apprenticeship. From 1 April 2024, the apprentice rate will increase to £6.40 an hour, up from the current £5.28.
Apprentices are often paid above the NMWAR. It is estimated that only around 14% of apprentices are paid at the statutory minimum wage.
Apprentice minimum wage
The researchers interviewed 10 former and current apprentices who worked towards qualifications in business administration, hairdressing and beauty, and joinery/furniture making and started their apprenticeship earning the NMWAR. Some started their apprenticeship in 2015 when the NMWAR was just £3.30 an hour.
The study found that apprentices who lived with their parents were generally in a more favourable financial position at the time than their peers who went to college or university, as they were earning while working towards a qualification.
However, an apprentice employed by a local authority who was trying to live independently without any family support at the age of 18 said the wage was not enough to cover her rent.
“I wasn’t entitled to income support, because technically I was in education, as an apprentice, but then I wasn’t entitled to any bursaries, because technically I was employed, so I was living in poverty, I was using foodbanks, I could not afford to heat my home… I look back and I do not know how I survived on that money I had,” she said.
An NHS apprentice who received universal credit and some support from his family also said that getting by on the NMWAR was challenging.
The report says: “Our research suggests that for those living with parents/guardians and under 18, the NMWAR is sufficient. For those living independently who are most likely to be over 18, our findings demonstrate that the NMWAR is not sufficient to cover rent, bills, food, and travel.
“The rate for those living independently, most easily defined as 18-year-olds or over should be reconsidered, in combination with entitlements to benefits and other support. If parental support is expected, in a similar way to university students under 25, it should be made explicit.”
Most said they accepted the low wages at the beginning of the apprenticeship because their programme provided them with a “foot in the door” and a stable and secure job.
However, some apprentices experienced employers who “exploited” them, either failing to provide training, or by asking apprentices to undertake inappropriate roles.
In a blog post published alongside the study, researchers Charlynne Pullen, Bob Jeffery and Teri-Lisa Griffiths said: “The clearest message from this research is that a Level 2 apprenticeship on the apprenticeship minimum wage, at its best, can be an effective stepping stone into a career pathway. It can suit individuals with a range of prior experiences, qualifications and ages, but pay needs to be set high enough to ensure that individuals can provide for themselves and have an incentive to stay the course.”