Poll finds majority want action on unpaid internships

Social Mobility Commission concerned about exploitation

A new survey has indicated that there is overwhelming public support for banning unpaid work experience, which can run on for weeks if not months.

Concerns have been raised that an increasing number of businesses are exploiting interns.

A poll by the Social Mobility Commission suggests that three quarters of Britons would support a change in the law, outlawing placements of longer than four weeks.

Alan Milburn, a former Labour MP, who now chairs the organisation, described the current situation as “a modern scandal.”

It has previously been estimated that there are now 70,000 unpaid internships in the UK every year and in some industries increasingly desperate graduates see the placements as about the only option to get a foothold in their chosen profession.

Critics argue that this state of affairs is damaging, because it tends to favour those whose parents have the means to support their children.

Mr Milburn said: “They have become a route to a good professional job, but access to them tends to depend on who not what you know and young people from low income backgrounds are excluded because they are unpaid.

“They miss out on a great career opportunity and employers miss out from a wider pool of talent. Unpaid internships are damaging for social mobility.”

Lord Holmes of Richmond is this week set to introduce a Private Member’s Bill, which will call for anyone undertaking a placement to be paid at least the minimum wage after a month with an organisation.

The Peer likened the arrangements at some employers to like something from the novels of Charles Dickens, although without ministerial support the proposed legislation is unlikely to find its way onto the statute books.

A previous attempt to outlaw unpaid internships was rejected by Parliament last November, with the Government having argued that the proposals in question could have undermined existing employment legislation.