UK's Minimum Wage: A Comprehensive Guide

minimum wage UK

The United Kingdom's minimum wage has been a hot topic of debate for many years. It is an issue that affects the lives of millions of people across the country and can have both positive and negative impacts on workers and employers alike.

This article will explore the history, current state, impact, international comparisons and potential future minimum wage developments in the UK. We'll look at how it has changed over time and consider its effects on individuals and businesses.

Hopefully, by examining these aspects in detail, we can better understand how minimum wage works in today's society.

What is the minimum wage in the UK?

The minimum wage in the UK is a legally mandated wage that sets the lowest hourly wage employers can pay their workers.

The national minimum wage in the UK was introduced in 1999 and is set by the government, with the specific rates determined by the Low Pay Commission.

The current national minimum wage rates per hour as of April 1st 2023 are:

  • £10.42 for employees aged 23 and over
  • £10.18 for employees aged 21 to 22
  • £7.49 for employees aged 18 to 20
  • £5.28 for employees aged under 18 and apprentices

Below you can find an overview of the increases with percentage based on the years 2022 and 2023:

2022 Rate
2023 rate
% Increase
National Living Wage £9,50 £10,42 9,7%
Employees 21-22 Year Old £9,18 £10,18 10,8%
Employees 18-20 Year Old £6,83 £7,49 9,6%
Employees 16-17 Year Old £4,81 £5,28 9,7%


There is also a separate rate called the "living wage," which is set by the Living Wage Foundation and based on the UK's standard of living.

The living wage is currently £10.85 hourly in London and £9.50 hourly in the rest of the UK. While the living wage is not legally required, some business owners pay it to their workers to provide a higher wage than the national minimum wage.

The minimum wage in the UK has been widely supported as a way to ensure that workers receive a fair wage for their labour.

However, there has been some debate about the potential negative impacts on managers, such as increased labour costs and potential job losses.

Ultimately, the minimum wage in the UK plays a significant role in shaping the wages and working conditions for many workers in the country.

History of the minimum wage in the UK

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The concept of a minimum wage in the UK has a long history, with roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when trade unions and labour organizations began advocating for a minimum wage to protect workers from low pay and exploitation. The UK's first legislation establishing a minimum wage was the Trade Boards Act of 1909, which set the minimum amount for specific industries.

It wasn't until the late 20th century that they introduced the national minimum wage in the UK. In April 1999, under the Labour government led by Tony Blair, they established the national minimum wage at £3.60 for adults and £3 for workers under 21.

The Low Pay Commission, an independent body that advises the government on minimum wage rates, was established at this time. They also established that the pay reference period was one calendar month. The Low Pay Commission would review and make recommendations on the minimum wage on an annual basis.

Since the introduction of the national minimum wage, it has undergone several changes and updates.

The rates have been adjusted periodically to consider changes in the standard of living and economic conditions. They have also been differentiated by age, with higher rates for older workers and lower rates for younger workers.

The national minimum wage in the UK has significantly impacted the payments and working conditions of many workers in the country.

It has helped to reduce poverty and increase income for low-paid employees while also playing a role in shaping the broader debate about fair pay and the role of government in the labour market. The minimum wage in the UK remains an important policy tool for ensuring that workers receive a fair wage for their labour.

The current state of the minimum wage in the UK

In the UK, the minimum wage is the lowest hourly rate that proprietors are legally required to pay their workers. The pay period used to calculate an employee's minimum wage varies typically by the employee's age. The government reviews and sets the minimum pay annually, considering factors such as the worker's age and experience level.

In 2016, the government introduced the national living wage (NLW) to ensure that low-paid UK employees earn sufficient pay. The NLW is reviewed annually based on living expenses and other economic considerations.

Recently, the government announced that the NLW would increase by 9.7% to £10.42 in April 2023, expected to benefit around 2.4 million workers across various sectors such as retail, hospitality and care.

While the increase in the NLW is expected to help low-paid employees, there is an ongoing debate about whether the current minimum wage is sufficient for employees to maintain a decent standard of living.

Some argue that they should set the minimum pay at a level that allows workers to afford necessities such as housing, food, and healthcare. In contrast, others argue that setting the minimum pay too high could result in job losses and reduced worker hours.

Increasing the base pay could help reduce poverty and improve living standards for low-paid employees, but it could also harm businesses and the economy. Ultimately, the decision on the living wage must balance workers' needs with businesses' ability to pay higher remuneration.

Differences between minimum wage and national living wage

Colleagues reading documents in an office

The national minimum wage is the minimum hourly wage personnel managers must legally pay their employees in the UK. It is set by the government and reviewed annually based on the age and level of experience of the worker.

In contrast, the living wage is a benchmark for what is considered a sufficient wage for workers to afford a decent standard of living. It is not a legal requirement but a voluntary standard adopted by particular proprietors.

There are two different living wage rates in the UK: the minimum and national living wage rates and the real living wage.

The NLW is set by the government and only applies to employees aged 25 and over, currently at £9.50. The RLW is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation and based on the basic standard of living, currently at £11.95 per hour in London and £10.90 per hour outside of London.

While the NMW is a legal obligation for all personnel managers, the living wage is only paid by a select group of proprietors, often larger, well-established companies that can afford higher pay rates. However, smaller businesses may also choose to pay a living wage to attract and retain employees.


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The role of the low pay commission

Established in 1997, the Low Pay Commission (LPC) is an independent body in the UK that provides essential advice to the government regarding statutory wage rates and thoroughly investigates how a national minimum wage would influence Britain's labour market. They did this before launching this country's first-ever national minimum wage policy in April 1999.

Their mandate includes:

  1. Advising the government on introductory pay rates and researching the impact of base pay on the labour market.

  2. Setting the national minimum wage (NMW) rates in the UK and reviewing them annually.

  3. Making recommendations to the government on the appropriate national minimum wage rates based on a range of factors, including the state of the economy, the standard of living, and the impact on employment.

  4. Gathering evidence from various sources, including proprietors, employees, and academics, to inform recommendations.

  5. Comprising a group of experts, including economists, labour market experts, and representatives from both business and labour.

  6. Operating independently of the government, and its recommendations are not binding on the government.

  7. Considering the trade-offs between boosting earnings for low-paid workers and the potential impact on employment.

  8. Recommend different basic pay rates for different employees, such as young employees or apprentices, based on those groups' unique circumstances and considerations.

  9. Helping to ensure that the national minimum wage is reasonable for workers and business owners.

  10. Ensuring that the national minimum wage (NMW) in the UK is set at a reasonable and sustainable level and that both executives, employees, and the government widely respect its recommendations.

The impact of basic pay on employees and employers

The base impacts both staff and business owners in different ways:

The impact on employees

One of the main benefits of base pay for employees is that it helps to increase income and reduce poverty. The national minimum wage is set at a certain amount per hour, and there is also an apprentice rate for those in the first year of their apprenticeship.

This can benefit employees by ensuring by ensuring they are paid a fair wage for their work.

A study by the Resolution Foundation found that the national minimum wage, introduced in the UK in 1999, positively affected the wages of low-paid workers.

This, in turn, helped to reduce poverty and income inequality in the country. Research supports this conclusion, showing that increasing the base pay can improve the living standards of those earning low pay. The worker aged 25 or over is legally entitled to be paid the national living wage, a premium element of the national minimum wage.

Impact of Minimum Wage on Employers

Employers may face increased labour costs due to the base pay, which may lead to reduced profits or job losses. The average hourly pay for most employees may be higher than the national minimum wage. Executives are also responsible for paying national insurance and other payments, such as service charges.

Some business owners may be unable to pay the base pay and may reduce their workforce or cut back on other costs to offset the higher labour costs.

Business owners should be aware that if they are paid less than the minimum wage, they may be required to pay backdated wages and face penalties. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) can conduct inspections to ensure compliance and provide confidential advice to employers regarding base pay rates.

It's important to note that the rules and rates are different for self-employed employees and employees aged under 18 or above 25. Company heads should check the hourly rates for these employees separately, as they may have been different to the previous rates.

Overall, the impact of base pay on an employee and owners is a complex and controversial issue. While the correct base pay has helped to improve the wages and living standards of low-paid employees, there are also potential negative impacts on employers and small businesses.

The employees should ensure they stay informed about changes to the national minimum wage, living wage rates and other payments.

Keeping accurate payment records and seeking confidential advice from HMRC can help them stay compliant.

The debate over the appropriate base pay level and its impact on the labour market will continue as policymakers and stakeholders consider the balance between the benefits and drawbacks of base pay.

Factors influencing the minimum wage rates


Economic conditions:

The UK's statutory wage rates are influenced by the country's economic conditions, including the economy's strength and unemployment rates.

During economic growth and low unemployment periods, the UK government may increase minimum wage rates to reflect workers' increased bargaining power and HR ability to pay higher wages.

Conversely, during times of economic downturn and high unemployment, base pay increases may be slower or more modest.

Cost of living:

The cost of living in the UK, including the prices of goods and services such as housing, food, and healthcare, can also affect minimum pay rates. As the cost of living increases, the base pay may need to be adjusted upwards to ensure that employees can afford to meet their basic needs.

Balance of power between employees and employers:

The balance of power between employees and business owners also influences the UK's minimum wage rates. For example, if employees have strong labour unions and collective bargaining power, they may be able to negotiate for higher minimum pay rates. In contrast, minimum pay rates may be lower if employees have weaker unions and bargaining power.

Government policy:

The UK government sets minimum pay rates through the Low Pay Commission, which reviews and makes recommendations on minimum pay rates based on economic and other factors. The government may also increase statutory wage rates as part of its overall economic and social policy goals.

International comparisons:

The UK's minimum wage rates may also be influenced by minimum pay rates in other countries, as managers and employees may compare wages and working conditions across borders.

In conclusion, the correct minimum wage is a critical policy tool for ensuring that employees receive fair and adequate compensation.

Economic conditions, cost of living, and the balance of power between human resources and employees must be considered when determining minimum pay rates.

It is essential to balance providing a fair minimum wage and ensuring that businesses remain competitive. Countries can set appropriate minimum wage policies by considering all these factors and promoting fair and equitable employee wages.

Carin Vreede

Written by:

Carin Vreede

With years of experience in the HR field, Carin has a lot of experience with HR processes. As a content marketer, she translates this knowledge into engaging and informative content that helps companies optimize their HR processes and motivate and develop their employees.


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