Social Mobility Commission: Vast Majority Of Public Would Support Ban On Unpaid Internships

It could soon become illegal for companies to exploit interns.
Social Mobility Commission chair Alan Milburn.
Social Mobility Commission chair Alan Milburn.
PA Archive/PA Images

An overwhelming majority of the British public would support a ban on unpaid internships, according to the Social Mobility Commission.

A new poll of nearly 5,000 people shows 72% would back a change in the law preventing companies from exploiting unpaid interns – with 42% “strongly supporting” a ban.

The survey also reveals 80% of people want to see a clampdown on nepotism - with businesses being made to openly advertise internships and work experience opportunities, rather than organise them through informal networks.

Its results have been released ahead of a second reading of a private members’ bill in the House of Lords this week, which proposes a ban on unpaid work experience or internships lasting more than four weeks.

Companies may soon be banned from exploiting unpaid interns.
Companies may soon be banned from exploiting unpaid interns.
sturti via Getty Images

The Social Mobility Commission, a government-sponsored independent body which monitors progress towards improving social mobility, has repeatedly called for action to be taken.

Its chairman, former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn, said: “Unpaid internships are a modern scandal which must end.

“Internships are the new rung on the career ladder. 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.

“They miss out on a great career opportunity and employers miss out from a wider pool of talent. Unpaid internships are damaging for social mobility. It is time to consign them to history.”

Many interns fall under the definition of “worker” under the National Minimum Wage Act and are therefore legally to be paid the national minimum/living wage.

Matthew Taylor, head of a government review of employment rights.
Matthew Taylor, head of a government review of employment rights.
PA Wire/PA Images

But campaigners say the law, as it stands, is not being enforced effectively, and a lack of clarity means that many companies exploit the loophole or are unaware of the legal requirement to pay interns.

Among those supporting a four-week limit are the Institute of Student Employers, Arts Council, UK Music, Creative Skillset, the Royal Institute of British Architects, Business in the Community, Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion and Trust for London.

The recent government-ordered Matthew Taylor review into employment practices concluded unpaid internships were “an abuse of power by employers and extremely damaging to social mobility”.

Lord Holmes of Richmond, who brought the private members’ bill, said: “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.

“The practice is clearly discriminatory, crushes creativity and competitiveness and holds individuals and our country back.”


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