Unpaid internships have become the norm for young people looking to break into the job market. They are seen as a way of gaining important experience in the industry with the hope of the work turning into paid employment somewhere down the line, either with the same firm or a new company.
Lower and middle income families can no longer afford the average cost of unpaid internships, which means that young people from diverse backgrounds are missing out on career progression. Inflation and high rent costs have pushed the average price to £1,000 with many internships costing much more. For example, if an internship is 6 months in length the potential costs are over £6,000.
Even outside London an unpaid internship costs more than many can afford. In Manchester, for example, the average cost is over £800. Smaller cities would cost less to live in but unpaid internships are far rarer than in larger cities.
Many think that companies take advantage of unpaid internships, asking for many complex duties from interns and paying them nothing except expenses. These type of ‘free’ workers are looking to gain experience for their CV but will often feel exploited. The unpaid internship is common in politics, fashion and journalism and there is such competition that companies are able to get work for free.
Unpaid internships often require an in-depth interview just as for a regular paid job. But it is now only those from wealthier backgrounds who can afford to work for nothing, especially if it means moving to live in an expensive city.
The Sutton Trust has revealed that about 70,000 internships are available every year, and 10,000 graduates take an internship with one-fifth of these being unpaid. Minimum-wage laws make some unpaid positions illegal but there have so far been no prosecutions. Internships that last more than four weeks should be paid at least £7.50/hour.
In practice, these rules are not always applied because many internships are casual agreements and not advertised publicly. This also means that youngsters without the right connections are effectively locked out of the process.
There has recently been much uneasiness about the prevalence of unpaid internships. The Sutton Trust is supporting a bill by Chris Holmes, a Tory peer, who is looking to outlaw unpaid internships that last longer than four weeks.
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