Unpaid internships are ‘a modern scandal which must end’.

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Three quarters of people would support a ban on unpaid internships that last more than four weeks, says new research.

The study released by the Social Mobility Commission, found that 72% of the public back a change in the law, with 42% ‘strongly supporting’ a ban.

The figures have been released ahead of the second reading of Lord Holmes of Richmond’s Private Members’ Bill in the House of Lords on Friday (27 October). The Bill proposes a ban on unpaid work experience or internships lasting more than four weeks.

“Unpaid internships are a modern scandal which must end, says the Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC), which has repeatedly called for a ban on internships. “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.”

The research also reveals that 80% of people want companies to be required to openly advertise internships and work experience opportunities, rather than organise them informally.

Background

Many interns fall under the definition of ‘worker’ under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. This means that are legally entitled to be paid the national minimum/living wage.

However, the law, as it stands, is not being enforced effectively, says the SMC. A lack of clarity means many companies exploit the loophole or are unaware of the legal requirements to pay interns, it says.

Unpaid internships are a major obstacle to social mobility, says Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endownment Foundation.

“Our research has shown that it costs an intern with no roots in the capital approximately £1,000 a month to live there. Unpaid internships prevent young people from low- and moderate-income backgrounds from getting into some of the most competitive sectors like the media, city and the arts,” says Lampl.

Support for a ban

The support for a ban has been gathering momentum in recent years, including from leading businesses and trade bodies. In fact, a YouGov study back in 2014 found that two-thirds of businesses would support a ban on unpaid internships after four weeks.

Calls for a ban have also been heard from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility (after hearing evidence on barriers to social mobility) and the Institute for Public Policy Research.

It published a report which provided new evidence that internships have increased to around 70,000 a year and also recommended a ban after four weeks.

The recent Matthew Taylor review into employment practices described unpaid internships as extremely damaging to social mobility. However, it also pointed out that most unpaid internships are already illegal, and it is enforcement that’s needed.

Lord Holmes of Richmond says that unpaid internships leave young people in a catch-22 situation and that it’s time to consign unpaid internships “to the past, to the novels of Dickens”.

He says: “Young people are unable to get a job because they haven’t got experience and unable to get experience because they can’t afford to work for free. The practice is clearly discriminatory, crushes creativity and competitiveness and holds individuals and our country back.”

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