Proposals to ban unpaid internships and work experience lasting more than four weeks will be debated by the House of Lords this week, as one peer said they should become a thing of the past.
On Friday, the House of Lords will have its second reading of a private member’s bill, which, if it becomes law, would ban longer stints of unpaid work experience and internships.
“Unpaid internships leave young people in a catch-22 situation: 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,” said Lord Holmes of Richmond, who introduced the private member’s bill. “The practice is clearly discriminatory, crushes creativity and competitiveness, and holds individuals and our country back. It’s time we consigned them to the past, to the novels of Dickens.”
A survey of nearly 5,000 people, which was run by YouGov on behalf of the Social Mobility Commission and published ahead of the debate, revealed that almost three-quarters (72 per cent) would back a ban on unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks. Four out of five (80 per cent) people would also like to see companies formally advertise their internship and work experience placements, rather than organising them informally or through word of mouth.
“Internships are the new rung on the career ladder,” said Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission. “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.”
Ben Lyons, chair of campaign Intern Aware, added: “The government needs to show that it cares about the next generation, and crack down on long-term unpaid internships that exclude young people who can’t afford to work for free for months on end.”
In April, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that some 70,000 internships took place per year but warned that many people were being excluded from taking up the opportunities because they were unpaid or seemed to be restricted to only those in certain social circles.
“Unpaid internships shut out young people who cannot afford to work for free, especially those without family in London, where the majority of internships take place,” said Carys Roberts, IPPR research fellow. “Today’s polling shows that the British public believe this is unfair. Lord Holmes’ and the commission’s call for a ban on unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks would provide clarity on the law, and would increase employers’ awareness of and compliance with their legal responsibilities to pay interns.”
Meanwhile, the Taylor review, which was published in July, also called for the current approach towards unpaid work experience to be reviewed, with the report concluding: “It is clear to us that unpaid internships are an abuse of power by employers and extremely damaging to social mobility.”
Other recent surveys have also suggested that interns themselves are less than impressed with their experiences. A survey by Lloyds Banking Group, published in August, revealed that more than half (53 per cent) of 18 to 30-year-olds who had done an internship felt that they spent most of their time carrying out menial tasks, such as photocopying or printing, and 83 per cent felt the employer was the main beneficiary of the deal.