Fresh concern about unpaid internships

Report suggests unpaid placements are damaging social mobility

A new study is likely to place fresh pressure on the Government to take steps to crack down on unpaid internships.

Social mobility foundation the Sutton Trust has released a report which suggests that four in 10 of the placements offered in the UK each year are unpaid.

Given the considerable living costs in Britain’s major cities – in particular London – there are fears that expecting young people to work for nothing (sometimes for months at a time) is closing off certain careers to those from less-advantaged backgrounds.

The Sutton Trust – a long-time critic of unpaid internships – has calculated that an intern would need a budget of £4,965 to cover the costs of a six-month placement in Manchester, or an eye-watering £6,114 in London.

Sir Peter Lampl, the organisation’s chairman, said: “All internships over four weeks should be paid at least the minimum wage of £7.50 per hour.

“All internship positions should be advertised publicly. Large numbers of internships are never advertised and instead offered through informal networks. This practice locks out young people without connections.”

There has been plenty of debate in recent years about whether the law should be changed to impose a blanket ban on unpaid internships – something the Government has been reluctant to do.

Although the authors of the latest report have suggested that, in actual fact, current employment laws would actually make the majority of placements being offered illegal in any event and the issue arises because current legislation is not properly applied.

In an article for The New Statesman this week, former intern Rabbil Sikdar talked about his own experiences of taking an unpaid placement at a city PR agency – having felt he needed to get work experience in the industry after graduation.

“My internship was contracted for six months, and was located on the other side of London from my home,” he wrote.

“Crossing the city cost me £50 a week for travel and food, first from my own pocket, then from my father, who stepped in to help me. I would wait in the rain for the bus to go home after work, feeling unhappy and empty.

“My friends were working 9-5 jobs and earning money while I was paying to do it. This wasn’t how I pictured things when I graduated from university: eating something cheap from Sainsbury’s by myself at the bus stop.”