Advertisement - Content continues below
Employment

Minimum wage UK: How does Britain compare to the rest of the world?

It looks likely the government will increase the national minimum wage for a second time in 2021, but who has the highest minimum wage in the world?

The national minimum and living wages have increased every year since they were introduced in the UK. But this does not mean they have kept up with the cost of living. 

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, Boris Johnson claimed Britain is moving “towards a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy,” but did not, despite rumours, announce an increase to the minimum wage. 

Each country around the world uses a different method for deciding upon their minimum wage, as well as what amounts different age groups should receive.

Some countries establish a minimum wage per hour, others per working day, week or month. There are still many countries that do not have a minimum wage at all.

Generally, the national minimum wage in this country increases by around 4 per cent, in line with average rates of inflation. The minimum wage has to keep up with the rate at which prices are rising, otherwise people will become poorer despite earning the same.

Of course, different countries have different costs of living, levels of inflation and average incomes. But how does the UK fare in the grand scheme of things? And who has the highest minimum wage in the world?

Advertisement - Content continues below
Advertisement - Content continues below

Minimum wage in the UK

The national minimum wage is the rate of minimum hourly pay for workers aged below 23. 

Workers aged 21 or 22 are entitled to £8.36 per hour. This decreases to £6.56 for those aged 18 to 20, while those under-18 can be paid £4.62. The national minimum wage also applies to apprentices, who can be paid £4.30 an hour. 

The national living wage, also set by the government, is essentially a rebrand of the national minimum wage for anyone over 22. As of April 1 2021, it is set at £8.91. So for someone working a full-time job at a 35-hour working week, gross income would work out at about £17,300 per year before tax or pension deductions.

As a rule of thumb, housing is considered affordable if it constitutes no more than a third of a person’s income.

Anyone over 22 working full time on the national living wage will not be able to rent a home for less than a third of their pay in a single region of England, according to recent estimates of monthly rents released by the ONS. 

Homes in the lowest priced quartile in the cheapest area, the north east, averaged at £425, which is still more than a third of a living wage salary after tax deductions.

The Living Wage foundation argues that the national minimum and living wages do not pay enough to constitute a livable income. As of November 2020, they have encouraged employers to pay their staff £9.50 an hour to give them a real living wage.

The Labour party recently voted to put the minimum wage up to £15 if they are elected in to government.

“Ten pounds an hour is what we were talking about in 2014, 2015. The world’s moved on, prices are rising, we see every day the pressures working people are under,” MP Andy McDonald told PoliticsJoe after he resigned from his role in the shadow cabinet in protest at being instructed to argue against a £15 minimum wage. 

Minimum wage in the US

The minimum wage, also called the federal minimum wage, has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, which equates to a measly £5.33. 

This is reduced for staff who work in ‘tipped labour’ – restaurant servers or bar staff – who must be paid a minimum of $2.13 per hour (£1.57), as long as the hour wage plus tip income equals at least the minimum wage. 

Individual states may set a higher minimum wage and Washington DC has the highest in the US at $15.20, followed by California at $14.00. In total, 21 states have never raised the minimum wage higher than the federally mandated $7.25.

The Fight for $15 started to gain momentum among fast-food workers in 2012 and has picked up again since Joe Biden was elected in November 2020. 

The president had formerly campaigned for a $15 minimum wage, and put this promise in his election manifesto. He has yet to make good on this promise, but did signed an executive order raising the minimum hourly rate for federal contractors to $15 by 2022.

Despite being more than double the federal minimum wage, campaigners say that even $15 wouldn’t make enough to cover necessities such as food, rent and health care. 

There is not a single state, county or city anywhere in the country where a person working 40 hours a week on minimum wage can afford rent for a two-bedroom property, said a recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Americans would need to earn $20.40 per hour to rent a modest one-bedroom home and pay bills, according to the study. 

Minimum wage in Ireland

Currently, the national minimum wage in Ireland is €10.20 an hour for anyone aged 20 or above .This equates to around £8.68, which is higher than the UK’s £6.56 minimum wage for 20-year-olds but lower than the pay for UK-workers over 22, which is £8.91. 

This drops to €9.18 an hour for 19-year-olds, and €8.16 an hour for 18-year olds. 

The Republic of Ireland Living Wage is campaigning for a living wage of €12.90 which they say is the minimum amount that makes an acceptable standard of living.

The cost of renting a home in Ireland rose by 2.7 per cent in 2020 to €1,256 per month, according to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). This would leave a person aged 20 and working 40 hours a week on minimum wage with less than €200 per month to live on.

Minimum wage in Australia

As of July 1 2021 the minimum wage in Australia is AUD $20.33 an hour, giving them the second highest minimum wage in the world. Converted into pounds, this would be £10.90.

Australia’s strong currency gives a high conversion rate against the euro or pound, attracting seasonal workers who make more money per hour than they would in the UK or European countries such as Spain. However, the cost of living in Australia is on average 10 per cent higher than in the UK. 

The median cost to rent a room in Australia in 2021 was calculated as between AUD $160 per week for the most affordable area – Perth, and AUD $260 for the most expensive – Sydney, by Rent.com.au

Someone earning minimum wage would have to work 10 and 16 hours respectively, after tax, to afford to rent a single bedroom in either of these places. 

The Fight for AUD $25 is being campaigned for by the United Workers’ Union and Retail and Fast Food Workers Union.

Minimum wage in Spain

Spain recently increased its minimum wage from €950 to €965, giving workers an extra €15 euros. It is important to note, however, that this is calculated as paid over 14 installments, and workers would receive €1,125.80 if paid monthly. This works out to £958 for full time workers.

Though the minimum wage saw a 1.6 per cent increase, Spain’s consumer price index calculated that costs of living are 3 per cent more expensive than the previous year. 

The cost of living in Spain is, on average, 20 per cent lower than in the UK, and rents are 31 per cent lower.

What is the highest minimum wage in the world?

Luxembourg has an hourly wage of €15.27 for skilled workers aged 18 and over, making it the country with the highest minimum wage in the world. To be considered a skilled worker, the employee must have a recognised official certificate at least equivalent to a vocational skills qualification.

If they are unskilled and aged 18 or over, employees can expect to earn €12.73, dropping to €10.18 for 17- to 18-year-olds, and €9.55 for those ages 15-17. 

So, how does the UK compare to the rest of the world?

Simply viewing minimum wage as an isolated amount of money, the UK ranks as having the eighth highest minimum wage in the world, below Luxembourg and Australia, but above Ireland – which places ninth. The US doesn’t even make the top ten. 

But minimum wage is relative and Professor of economics at London School of Economics Alan Manning suggests a more accurate measure is looking at what a country’s minimum wage is in relation to the average earnings of full-time workers.

In the UK, the median hourly income is £13.68, so a minimum wage of £8.91 is not dramatically lower, though it could be brought into question whether wages in general are too low. 

“It’s quite plausible that how high a level of minimum wage a country can support depends on the average level of earnings in that country,” he said. Which is why, in his opinion, the UK economy would not yet be able to support a minimum wage of £15

Viewing the UK’s minimum wage relative to average earnings, “the UK is towards the top.” Though the minimum wage in countries such as Chile ($440) and Columbia ($263) seems very high compared to workers’ average incomes, Manning questions whether it is enforced. 

So while a country might seem to have a relatively high minimum wage, it is important to question how widely this is enforced. In the UK, employers who are found to be flouting the minimum wage can be fined, and then taken to court if they continue to refuse to pay. 

The Low Pay Commission names and shames employers who have failed to pay all of their employees at least the minimum wage, with household names including John Lewis PLC, The Body Shop and Sheffield United Football Club issued fines in 2021. 
If you are being paid less than the minimum wage for your age category, you can report your employer to HMRC.

Advertisement - Content continues below

Support us today

Over the last 30 years, your contributions have been vital in providing opportunities for those facing poverty by giving them a hand up, not a hand out. Support us to help thousands more. Buy a copy from your local vendor, donate or subscribe online today.

Recommended for you

Read All
Zero hour contracts: Know your rights
Employment

Zero hour contracts: Know your rights

Climate campaigners slam decision to cut thousands of railway jobs
Employment

Climate campaigners slam decision to cut thousands of railway jobs

Bin workers in Glasgow to strike when world leaders visit for global climate event COP26
Employment

Bin workers in Glasgow to strike when world leaders visit for global climate event COP26

Labour shortage: UK needs 1.1 million people to fill record job vacancies
Employment

Labour shortage: UK needs 1.1 million people to fill record job vacancies

Most Popular

Read All
'What kidnappers do' - DWP forcing universal credit claimants to pose for photo with daily paper
1.

'What kidnappers do' - DWP forcing universal credit claimants to pose for photo with daily paper

The problems with BT's £50m 888 app to protect women on their way home
2.

The problems with BT's £50m 888 app to protect women on their way home

Why England's rivers are so polluted and will be for years to come
3.

Why England's rivers are so polluted and will be for years to come

Universal credit: What is it and why does the £20 cut matter?
4.

Universal credit: What is it and why does the £20 cut matter?