Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband

Ben Lyons of Intern Aware argues that unpaid internships are illegal, and should be stopped by the party leaders as soon as possible.

I'm actually a level 34 photocopier

By Ben Lyons, co-director, Intern Aware

“We know that in the halls of Westminster, at the seat of our democracy, there remain too few opportunities for people from lower and middle income families. The current culture of unpaid internships is a symptom of that problem. It prevents young people with modest means from getting on and achieving their aspirations. It is unfair and unrepresentative, and it must change.”

Ed Milband wrote to Intern Aware to make this point in April. And in the same month, Nick Clegg said:

“Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities.

“We want a fair job market based on merit, not networks. It should be about what you know, not who you know.”

Both politicians articulate the problem with unpaid internships well enough that I don’t need to.

And yet as the Guardian reports, both parties fail to put these progressive principles into action.

Lib Dem ministers, MPs and president Tim Farron advertised for 67 unpaid internships since the election for up to six months. Labour has advertised for 55 unpaid internships, with from business secretary Chuka Umunna placing four adverts for unpaid labour, while shadow Treasury chief secretary Rachel Reeves placed six.

When we led a campaign against unpaid Parliamentary internships in 2010 other high profile MPs relying on free labour included David Lammy and Simon Hughes. We heard of one Labour MP who replaced a full-time member of staff with an unpaid intern. And if anything these figures underestimate the problem in Westminster, as they only include the internships advertised on the website W4MP.

Many more are hidden, offered to young people with access to closed networks. Indeed, in 2009, Unite estimated there are 18,000 hours of unpaid labour taking place every week in Parliament.

Many of these unpaid internships in Parliament are likely to be illegal. As HMRC advice to the government shows, “sometimes individuals are told they are interns or volunteers, but this does not prevent them being workers.”

Record graduate unemployment has led to a dramatically raised skills bar for accessing the professions. Unpaid internships make it impossible for the vast majority of young people who can’t work for free to gain the skills they need to become employable.

However, there should be reason for optimism for Britain’s 100,000 plus unpaid interns. Today, the Arts Council and Creative & Cultural Skills published important guidelines on the need for paid and open arts internships within the creative industries.

They recognised that paid internships are not just the right thing for young people, but help employers to attract the best talent. The PR industry trade body is also taking a stand. HMRC have also promised a crackdown on unpaid labour in the fashion industry.

Whether because of public opinion or upholding progressive principles, the political parties must end unpaid internships. If the passport into the political word continues to be half a year’s free labour, the next generation of MPs cannot be reflective of the country they are supposed to serve.

It should come as no surprise that both Miliband and Clegg started their careers as unpaid interns. Both politicians know why unpaid internships are wrong. It should make their parties’ members angry that their parties’ recruitment policies are entrenching inequality.

If you have done an unpaid internship, please let us know the details in confidence

See also:

Why won’t the government walk the walk when it comes to unpaid internships?Gus Baker, November 8th 2011

“Seeking Gaddafi” Tory MP demands Libya pay us back for their liberationShamik Das, October 21st 2011

Don’t lets clear away aspiration for youngsters with the riot debrisEmma Norris, August 11th 2011

British democracy is run on unpaid labourIntern Aware and Interns Anonymous, March 30th 2011

Leadership candidates need to debate the ‘poverty of ambition’ as well as inequalityRayhan Haque, June 26th 2010

39 Responses to “Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband”

  1. Ben Lyons

    .@leftfootfwd has just put my piece up – why we need action as well as good words on internships from Clegg & Miliband: http://t.co/ujJ82Ljl

  2. Bernie Bernie

    Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband, writes @internaware : http://t.co/3zaFTlzE

  3. Altany

    Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband, writes @internaware : http://t.co/3zaFTlzE

  4. Emma

    Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband, writes @internaware : http://t.co/3zaFTlzE

  5. Allison Wong

    “@leftfootfwd: Unpaid internships are wrong" http://t.co/SP9YdcRF As someone who has been through the intern machinery I couldn't agree more

  6. Bridget Phonda

    Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband: By Ben Lyons, co-director, Int… http://t.co/T3qeuy3N

  7. Dom Hewett

    Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband, writes @internaware : http://t.co/3zaFTlzE

  8. Marcus Mason

    .@leftfootfwd has just put my piece up – why we need action as well as good words on internships from Clegg & Miliband: http://t.co/ujJ82Ljl

  9. Mr. Sensible

    I fully agree. If we want our young people interested in politics, then I think they should be supported.

  10. New Deal of the Mind

    .@CCSkillsUK & @ace_national praised by @internaware for their new guidelines on internships – http://t.co/LS69l1Pw

  11. LilacNannie

    .@CCSkillsUK & @ace_national praised by @internaware for their new guidelines on internships – http://t.co/LS69l1Pw

  12. CCSkills

    @BenLyons1 of @InternAware talking about our and @ace_national's #Internship Guidelines @leftfootfwd http://t.co/zfoo1bax

  13. Ben Lyons

    @BenLyons1 of @InternAware talking about our and @ace_national's #Internship Guidelines @leftfootfwd http://t.co/zfoo1bax

  14. Intern Aware

    “@leftfootfwd: Unpaid internships are wrong" http://t.co/SP9YdcRF As someone who has been through the intern machinery I couldn't agree more

  15. Jill

    Wow. Apparently over 100,000 interns in the UK aren't paid. RT @leftfootfwd: Unpaid internships are wrong http://t.co/4jC3HZcR #ccpr

  16. James Grant

    @Sydney26 Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband http://t.co/GyqeTwFa via @leftfootfwd

  17. Sydney Joyce

    Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words, from Clegg and Miliband http://t.co/O75vDDdG via @leftfootfwd

  18. Internsheep Canada

    Unpaid internships are wrong: We need action, not words (UK) http://t.co/CUyzgIXV Want action in Canada? Email internsheep.canada[at]gmail

  19. NSA CreativeCultural

    RT @ndotm: @CCSkillsUK & @ace_national praised by @internaware for their new guidelines on internships – http://t.co/0pd8RnUd

  20. Lucy Glover

    RT @ndotm: @CCSkillsUK & @ace_national praised by @internaware for their new guidelines on internships – http://t.co/0pd8RnUd

  21. CDI Alliance

    RT @ndotm: @CCSkillsUK & @ace_national praised by @internaware for their new guidelines on internships – http://t.co/0pd8RnUd

  22. Kit Friend

    RT @ndotm: @CCSkillsUK & @ace_national praised by @internaware for their new guidelines on internships – http://t.co/0pd8RnUd

  23. Kit Friend

    @BenLyons1 of @InternAware talking about our and @ace_national's #Internship Guidelines @leftfootfwd http://t.co/zfoo1bax

  24. Susan Nash

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  25. Dorothy R

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  26. The WOO

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  27. E'Liza Gedrych

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  28. Josiah Mortimer

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  29. Tracy Husseini

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  30. Carol Clarke

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  31. Anonymous

    And it’s not just internships being offered to young people with access to closed networks. Proper jobs for MPs, @BevaniteEllie being a case in point.

  32. Juan Voet

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  33. Marc Thomas

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  34. Amy Caine

    And remember that young people forced into working for free don't show up as unemployed. It's a hidden disgrace: http://t.co/F1iO1T3r #PMQs

  35. Robert Hesketh

    http://t.co/0wMimchV cool article, i'd love to work for the people behind it *clicks jobs page* *bowtie spins*

  36. Red Naylor

    http://t.co/0wMimchV cool article, i'd love to work for the people behind it *clicks jobs page* *bowtie spins*

  37. Jon

    http://t.co/6upipmNH Glad to see @leftfootfwd are decisively against unpaid internshi-ahahaha http://t.co/FX4QkTD0

  38. Bea H

    @leftfootfwd horribly disappointed you are advertising a full-time, unpaid internship. No excuse. Particularly given http://t.co/HZv9dEWr

  39. Pinkandtweed

    Young politicians should get a job elsewhere before they go into full time politics to understand how business/real world works

Leave a Reply