Guest post by Ben Lyons
What do Blue Peter and John Bercow have in common? Neither of them pay their interns. With an increasingly competitive employment market, getting a job today often relies less on your interview skills than your ability to intern for free. An article in the New Statesman this week highlights this problem, but even they fail to pay those interns who are working for them.
To support yourself in London for three months costs around £2000. The division between those who can afford to do internships, and those who cannot, is greater than ever. Where students are intelligent, qualified and want to work, but can’t afford to live without pay, we have a problem. Britain will be a worse place in 20 years if a generation of potential journalists, fashion designers, TV producers and politicians are wasting their talent because their parents couldn’t afford to fund them why they got a foot on the ladder.
Each year thousands of students and graduates are turned away from the opportunities they deserve because they are unable to complete internships. This isn’t just unfair, going against the basic principle that work should be paid, but it is a growing cause of inequality. Earlier this year, the former government minister Alan Milburn headed a report to try and find out the major causes of inequality in Britain today. Unpaid internships required a chapter.
A solution lies in the government’s own minimum wage legislation, which must be changed to recognise interns as short-term employees. It is a national scandal that after over ten years of the minimum wage, many young working people do not receive it and in November, the Employment Tribunal sitting in Reading ruled that expenses-only internships are illegal. This isn’t to stop people working in their local Oxfam: the minimum wage legislation explicitly excludes genuine volunteering.
Today’s internship system leads to inequality. That’s why I launched a campaign called Intern Aware. It started as a Facebook group, Interns Must Be Paid The Minimum Wage. We now have 2,000 members and are supported by the NUS, trade unions, several ex-ministers and MPs and have branches at different universities.Visit http://www.internaware.org/ and ask your MP to support the campaign. Asking people to work for free is exploitation. Interns deserve better.
Ben Lyons is the co-director of Intern Aware