We’ve been beating the ‘down with unpaid internships’ drum for quite a while now. Being a student in this day and age is expensive enough, without having to fork out for travel and accommodation (with no salary) on top of that.
In certain industries particularly, unpaid internships have been established as normal. In journalism, fashion and other creative industries especially, most student grudgingly accept their fate.
While we all knew unpaid internships exploited the labour of young people, research by the Sutton Trust have revealed just how costly internships can be.
A grand a month?!
Yes, you heard that right. Due to rising rent costs and inflation the research concluded a one-month unpaid internship in London now costs a minimum of £1,019, meaning a six-month internship would cost £6,114. In other areas of the country the costs are slightly less, £827 a month in Manchester for example, but still unfeasible for many students.
And this isn’t rare either. The research found that 40% of young people who have carried out an internship have done so unpaid. That’s a lot of free labour being exploited.
The Sutton Trust found that it’s not just the lack of pay that’s important in making internships more accessible. Many of them aren’t even advertised publicly, and are often filled through informal networks. This is mainly the friends, family and acquaintances of the staff who currently work there.
This obviously means that those without the necessary contacts have no way of getting their foot in the door, and this can create a dangerous precedent.
There are many reasons while all of the above is terrible. It’s unfair and exploitative. But in particular it excludes those without the financial resources to be able to attend unpaid internships. Meaning the industries in which unpaid internships are so common are excluding a massive proportion of society, often those from a lower income background and those who live far away from big cities.
It’s why for so many years industries like journalism and fashion have been perceived as so elitist – only for the middle and upper classes. We need more diverse workforces, and equal opportunities for all young people, so this needs to change.
So what’s to be done?
Sutton Trust have made a number of recommendations, the first one being that it should be a legal requirement that all internships that last over a month are paid. And by pay they mean at least the minimum wage, although preferably the Living Wage. This will ensure internship opportunities are open to all young people, not just those who can afford it.
They’ve also suggested that all internship positions should be advertised publicly, with the recruitment process fair and transparent for all. Let’s hope the government (and employers) sit up and listen, because unpaid internships have waaaay overstayed their welcome.