Unpaid internships “a serious and pressing problem for social mobility”

12 November 2014 Almost a third of recent university graduates are working as unpaid interns. This works out at 22,000 at any one time – far higher than the previous government estimate of 15,000.

13 Nov 2014| News

12 November 2014

Almost a third of recent university graduates are working as unpaid interns. This works out at 22,000 at any one time – far higher than the previous government estimate of 15,000.

The average cost of an internship to the intern is £926 a week in London (excl. transport), which works out at £5,556 for a six month internship. The cost of a six month internship in Manchester is £4,728.

An analysis of government statistics shows that graduates, now numbering 38% of young people, who cannot afford to work for free are struggling to find employment. Those who can to foot the bill are able to kick-start careers in highly competitive proffessions, while their equally talented but less well heeled contemporaries are left behind.

The analysis was performed by The Sutton Trust, a charity and think tank which aims to improve social mobility through education. Lee Elliot Major, the trust’s director of development and policy, called for interns to be paid at the very least the minimum wage, but preferably the living wage of £7.85, or £9.15 in London.

“Unpaid internships are increasingly the gateway to a job in the most competitive professions,” he said. “But, as today’s research shows, the cost of taking on an internship without pay is beyond the means of the vast majority of individuals.

“Paying all interns who work for over a month the minimum wage would significantly improve access to these placements for those from more modest backgrounds, offering them a stepping stone into many coveted jobs, thus increasing social mobility.”

The Sutton Trust is also calling for internships to be advertised publicly, and for the recruitment process to be fair and transparent.

An Ipsos Mori poll of 1,700 adults in England for the Sutton Trust found that 70% thought that unpaid internships were unfair as only the wealthy could afford them.

The research comes after the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission recently advised a ban on unpaid internships. Alan Milburn, chair of the commission, said “Some people can afford to work for free, but many cannot. The current system is blocking out individuals with high potential but modest financial means, from getting on the professional career ladder.”

The Commission believes that a lack of clarity in the law over whether interns are volunteers, or workers (who qualify for the minimum wage), is allowing for their exploitation.