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Unpaid Internships Deprive Less Advantaged Young People

February 5, 2018, 3:00 PM
  • Unpaid internships cost up to £1,000 a month for the intern
  • An estimated 2,000 are running in the UK
  • High costs are pricing out those from lower income families
  • One intern shared their story with Latest Deals
Unpaid internships are rising in costs and shutting out those from lower income families. Image: Getty

Unpaid internships from all industries are costing young people more than £1,000 a month, due to rising costs of commutes or rent, according to a study.

Education charity, the Sutton Trust, estimated that each year after graduation, 10,000 young people will do an internship, and a fifth of these are unpaid, putting those from poorer backgrounds at even more of a disadvantage.

Due to this, those from low income families are being priced out.

Sir Peter Lamp, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said, “Around 40% of young people who have carried out an internship have done so unpaid.

“All internships over four weeks should be paid at least the minimum wage of £7.50 per hour.

“Failure to do so prevents young people from low and moderate-income backgrounds from accessing jobs in some of the most desirable sectors, such as journalism, fashion, the arts, and politics.”

The Trust also criticised the long hours that interns are required to work.

We spoke to one intern, Emily, about her experiences at a cosmetics company as an unpaid intern.

“Originally, I had agreed to work 40 hours per week in the typical 9am – 5pm schedule.

“However, it was apparent after the first day that I would not get out of the office until about 6-6:30pm.

“I was asked to come in at 8:30am instead of 9am after a few days of being there, realistically it ended up being 47 – 50 hours per week.”

She did, however, believe that it was valuable experience, and does not regret the cost of the internship.

She said, “I think the experience was worth it in terms of the connections and the strength it added to my CV.

“I also very much enjoyed working in the office as I was with a very good team.

“In the beauty industry, it is quite hard to get anywhere without first doing some unpaid work.

“The nature of this type of internship does make you work very hard, because there was a prospect of a potential paid position at the end of it.

“However, when the company asked me to stay on longer as an unpaid intern, I couldn’t due to the costs of it.”

The Trust is concerned that the significant costs associated with unpaid internships are shutting out less advantaged young people from their desired career choice.

In London, where Emily did her internship, an unpaid internship will cost more than £1,000 a month, as rent prices and the cost of commuting have soared since a previous study was carried out in 2014.

The Government has tried to help young people who commute with the new Millennial railcard, but costs are still high which puts pressure on unpaid interns.

She said, “I do think that internships are a great way of getting some experience, especially if you have no idea what to do after graduation, because it gives you a feel for different industries and the way companies work.

“However, I think being unpaid and working so many hours is very difficult.

“Unless you’re very financially secure, being unpaid for several months can bring a huge anxiety around money as you worry about travel, food, and rent costs and you do not know where your next pay cheque is coming from.

“After my unpaid internship, I went on to a paid one and generally felt a lot better as I knew I had a source of income.”

There are also issues with how internships are offered- not all are freely advertised to the public, and instead are selectively offered to candidates.

Sir Lamp said, “Large numbers of internships are never advertised, and instead offered through informal networks.

“This practice locks out young people without connections.

“Also, the process by which potential candidates are selected for internships should uphold the same standards for recruitment as for other jobs.”

Many internships also do not cover much in the way of expenses, such as travel or lunch expenses.

Emily said, “I was quite fortunate in getting my internships through a connection, therefore the company had agreed to pay partly for my travel costs and cover some lunch cost.

“The company doesn’t usually do this for interns, so I only got about 45% of both travel and food costs back.

“In addition, I was meant to get a bag of beauty products as a thank you, but never received them due to bad organisation from the company.”

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