Downing Street moved to calm fears that the basic hourly wage for everyone would be cut because of complaints from small businesses that they could not afford it, but could not guarantee it will not be frozen.

The hourly rate increased from £6.08 to £6.19 for those aged over 21 last October, but for employees aged 18 to 20 it was frozen at £4.98. The new rate for this October is due to be announced shortly.