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Unpaid internships are a stain on our society

3 min read

Tory peer Lord Holmes calls upon parliamentarians to support his PMB to outlaw unpaid internships and consign the practice to the classics.   

Yesterday, I introduced a Private Member’s Bill to outlaw unpaid internships.  The Bill if enacted would “make provision for the prohibition of unpaid work experience exceeding four weeks.”

I have spent the last year as a member of the Lord’s select committee on social mobility, a valuable opportunity to consider in depth what barriers exist to a successful transition from school to career and the committee made some important recommendations. Unpaid internships strike me as another significant barrier to social mobility, usually between university and career, and I am hopeful that this Bill could make a real difference.

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. Sadly, they are not unusual; the Sutton Trust estimates that one-third of graduate interns are unpaid. The practice is clearly discriminatory, crushes creativity and competitiveness and holds individuals and our country back.

In 2012 YouGov found that two out of five people aged between 18 and 24 believed that they needed to do unpaid internships or that they acted as a major barrier to getting a job.  For far too long, if you have wanted to get into fashion, broadcasting or much of the creative industries you have had to have the independent means to support yourself.  This is not just a question of equality, important enough, it is about creative, competitive edge.  We need everyone to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.  We need to know that we live in a society where talent can come through in every aspect.

There is significant support for a four week limit and I believe the clarity of such legislation would be a great benefit for employers.

  • A four week limit is supported by two-thirds of businesses, with only one-in-eight opposing the legislation. There are consistently high levels of support from across a range of industries, and from businesses of all sizes. (YouGov, 2014)

  • Leading businesses including KPMG, PwC, Ernst & Young, AXA UK, Pimlico Plumbers and the PR industry trade association (PRCA) support a four week limit. Employer representatives including the Institute of Directors, Arts Council, UK Music, Creative Skillset and the Royal Institute of British Architects all oppose long term unpaid internships.

  • The Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Foundation all support the introduction of a four week limit.

Unpaid internships are a divisive, anti-competitive product of the past, it’s time we consigned them to that past, to the novels of Dickens.  I respectfully call on colleagues across Parliament, across parties to support this Bill and consign unpaid internships to the classics.

Lord Holmes is a Conservative peer

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