Intern Aware is launching today in response to the Government’s pledges on the Milburn Report. We are dedicated to promoting fair access to the internship system through campaigning for payment of the minimum wage.
Fair access to the professions identifies the corrosive effect of internships on our society and the future prospects of our young people. In accepting these conclusions, the Government is to be lauded. But they do not go far enough. Pat McFadden says he wants to break through the glass ceiling: this set of proposals represents a mere nudge.
The answer to the problem of social mobility lies not in kitemark standards or small-scale loans to interns. It lies in the Government’s own National Minimum Wage legislation. Currently, interns are being treated as employees, but without their rights or, crucially, their wages.
The Reading employment tribunal ruled in November that expenses-only internships are illegal. Intern Aware believes it is only through clarifying and implementing this law that real change can be made. We have set up university groups, which are now beginning their campaign and have an online petition.
Getting a job today often relies less on your interview skills than your ability to intern for free. However, 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 the three months without pay required, we have a problem.
The ongoing impact of the financial downturn on employment has led many graduates to accept internships to garner CV points, at a time when they can least afford to make the necessary financial sacrifice. Those who cannot afford to do internships are left behind. A situation has arisen in which it is only people who have a significant amount of cash who can afford to work for weeks, usually months, without a wage. 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, when Alan Milburn headed a report to try and find out the major causes of inequality in Britain today, unpaid internships required an entire chapter.
Some may say that, in a time of recession, something is better than nothing on the CV. But the danger is that ten years down the line, the divisions between those whose parents could afford for them to complete an internship and those who couldn’t will be entrenched in the level of their children’s jobs and prospects.
This problem requires the government to act to clarify the minimum wage legislation over interns. It is a national embarrassment that after over ten years of the minimum wage, many young working people do not receive it. This isn’t something that businesses and employers cannot afford. It’s not local bookshops that offer internships, but companies with high profit margins who pay the rest of their staff good money.