An announcement that ministers may ban unpaid internships has left young people divided, with some arguing that it will lead to fewer work experience opportunities.
Employment minister Damian Hinds confirmed that the government is considering making the controversial work experience placements illegal, calling the change “important for social mobility” as many working class young people cannot afford to work for free.
Instead companies would be forced to pay interns the minimum wage, £7.20 an hour.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, the Conservative politician said: “One of the big barriers to getting a job is not having had employment experience and so there is a role for work experience.
“But I think particularly in the media, in fashion, in these very sought-after occupations, there is a concern ... that with unpaid internships those aren’t actually accessible to everybody and I think it is right that we look at it.”
However, some students and graduates have come out against the proposal, saying that it will reduce opportunities for all young people.
Alex Thompson-Armstrong, a campaigns and communications manager, took an unpaid internship in Parliament seven years ago when he was struggling to find a job. He said he “benefitted massively” from the experience.
“Unpaid internships are a great way to give young people work experience and learn new skills at the same time,” the 25-year-old said.
“For small and medium businesses, it’s not always affordable to pay for interns, which is understandable. Many want to share their knowledge and experience with others, whilst asking for work support in return. It’s almost currency exchange between the intern and the employer - the intern helps with work, the employer pays in experience and management.”
But Ben Lyons, co-director of national campaign Intern Aware, said these worries were unfounded.
“I think companies will pay. Look at what happened when the minimum wage was first introduced in 1998 - it didn’t lead to a decrease in the number of jobs.
“We have done research with YouGov that shows that were you to introduce a ban, the vast majority of companies say it would make no difference at all [to the number of interns they take on],” he added.
“We are not against internships, we think they are a great opportunity, but we think that opportunity needs to be offered fairly and on the basis of talent and hard work, rather than how rich your parents are.”
Research carried out by Intern Aware states that companies who pay their interns are also more 14% more likely to recruit them, with 46% of these employers hiring former interns.
Many young people support the organisation’s view, saying that interns should be offered a fair wage for their work.
On Friday, MP Alec Shelbrooke will introduce a separate Commons’ Private Members Bill to ban unpaid internships.
However, this bill is unlikely to pass, with commentators saying it is more likely to be introduced by the Government in next year’s Queen’s speech.
A ban on unpaid internships was proposed by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg under the coalition government, but was blocked by David Cameron.