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‘You Can’t Live’: Apprentices are Paid Just £5.28 an Hour – and They’re Demanding a Raise

Mary Davenport (centre right), a former apprentice forced to drop out due to financial struggles, is speaking up about rock-bottom pay

L-R: Sarah Onion, Barbara Henderson, Mary Davenport, Roxy from Organise outside No 10. Photo: Josiah Mortimer

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An apprentice who had to drop out of her placement because she couldn’t afford to get to work is among thousands calling for apprentice wages to be hiked.  

Mary Davenport, 23 and from Berwick-Upon-Tweed on the Scottish border, secured a business apprenticeship in Leeds last year. But with pay of just £5.28 an hour – the rate for under-19s or anyone in their first year – she was forced to drop out after four months. She had drained all her savings and couldn’t afford to get to work. 

She is now the face of a campaign from the workers’ rights group Organise, to ensure apprentices get at least 80% of the minimum wage – which would be £8.34 for those aged 23 and over. On Friday, she and fellow campaigners handed in a petition signed by more than 13,000 people to 10 Downing Street urging ministers to boost apprentice pay. 

Davenport told Byline Times: “We’re always told if we don’t want to go to university because of tuition fees, that we should do an apprenticeship instead. But you can’t afford to do either. You try and do an apprenticeship, but you can’t live on less than six pounds an hour. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

“And they base it on the idea that you’re 16, that you have a strong support network at home and you can live at home…But that’s completely unreasonable.”

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“I was getting around £800 a month, working full time.” She added she struggled even finding somewhere to live: “I couldn’t pass credit checks just to get to apply for flats. So I was completely unable to even go to work, let alone live.” 

“I did it for four months. By the end, all my savings from my previous jobs had gone. I didn’t have anything left. I lost money. The last straw was having to go into my overdraft just to get to work. You shouldn’t have to do that. I think if you do 80% of a job, you should at least get 80% of the wage.”

She is now working back in hospitality and “not sure” what’s next. “My career options have been taken away from me. I’ve moved back home to the Scottish borders from Leeds. Being where I’m from, there aren’t any opportunities in apprenticeships. You have to go into cities to do it. It’s a city-rural divide.” 

Byline Times was there as she handed in her petition to Number 10. She said: “I’m doubtful the government will listen, but you’ve got to try.” 

Her mum, Barbara, was there to support her, and said: “We live in a very small town, a rundown coastal town and so she had to travel away to get this apprenticeship…We were having to offer to pay an effectively another mortgage, to keep her going. That didn’t work because she couldn’t even get the credit check to get a place to live.” 

“It was impossible to do. The government needs to recognise that young people are people and they have bills and they can’t always be at home in a comfortable environment where every everything’s being met.”

“£5.28 per hour is just so unreasonable. I was really shocked. I didn’t realise when she took the apprenticeship on that that’s what she would get.”

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A spokesperson for Organise said: “The wage disparity is unfair for apprentices and makes them practically unliveable, as it does not reflect the cost of living and basic expenses such as rent and food. It places an unnecessary financial burden on apprentices and undermines the value of apprenticeships as a sensible option for young people to fill much needed job vacancies in this country.”

The petition to Robert Halfon, Minister of State for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, calls for an increase in the wage for apprentices to 80% of the National Minimum Wage.

It adds: “By increasing apprentice wages, the government can demonstrate its commitment to supporting the next generation of workers, promoting fair labour practices, and strengthening the overall workforce in the UK.”

Sarah Onions, who used to help arrange apprenticeships through a college said the lack of support for apprentices was holding back Britain’s economy.  “Even if they do take somebody on, they’re paying at the very minimum. And they will lose those staff because they’re drawn away for roles in retail or fast food.”

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Young people she worked with frequently had to drop out due to a lack of cash or a lack of support within the businesses. 

“You’d struggle as a 30-something – maybe with children, a mortgage or rent to pay – to be able to change careers with an apprenticeship now. And that should be there for people to be able to switch careers. Those people have already proved that they’re good in the workforce and that they’re able to contribute and that they want to contribute, and yet they’re not offered the chance to switch.

“There’s no course for those people to be able to go into something new, because you couldn’t expect to live off £5.28 an hour.”

She added: “I think you’d struggle to get a room in London for that. Mary lives in the north of England, where property prices are a bit cheaper, but she’s struggling to live there.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman told Byline Times: “Our apprenticeship schemes continue to be a success. They continue to be a very popular route into employment and we are supporting them through our Apprenticeship Levy.”

Asked if there were plans to improve pay, he added: “I’m not aware of any plans to change the rates currently, but obviously, as with all things like this we keep it under review.”


Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com


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