Unpaid Internships: What’s Changed In The Past Year?


At the moment, the government is attempting to claim almost £200,000 in unpaid wages for interns. National laws are very clear: anyone who works is allowed the minimum wage and many interns are juggling 9-to-5 jobs, with no means to live, unless they rely on the bank of mummy and daddy.

In December 2012, Labour MP Hazel Blears won a vote to disallow the advertisement of unpaid internships, as it’s an exploitative practice that amounts to slave labour. According to Intern Aware, the Government is failing to enforce the minimum wage (£6.19 an hour for over 21s) and something needs to be done about it.

Class Divides

Currently, people from more affluent backgrounds are three times more likely to take unpaid internships and get their foot in the door. 20% of young people have completed unpaid internships because they are told it’s the right thing to do; in fact, their only option, after leaving education.

Now, students are being encouraged to step forward to name and shame bad employers that are taking advantage of graduates. This summer, hundreds of thousands of students are expected to be searching for work experience places. Even the largest UK job board website, Monster.co.uk, has refused to display unpaid internship vacancies.

The current situation is creating a culture of class divide – affluently raised students are able to afford internships, while everyone else is priced out. With an internship often being a prerequisite for certain careers, this presents a serious problem. But even MPs have been at it, with Simon Hughes from the Liberal Democrats asking for unpaid interns to help him out…nice.

Implications for Businesses

Last December, tax inspectors investigated sports website, Goal.com, for hiring no less than 30 unpaid interns. HMRC is currently following up on more than 100 employees that are suspected of flaunting the national minimum wage laws. If they’re found guilty, they could be sent to a tribunal, where an employment solicitor reviews the case; with the eventuality of a fine, or leave with a criminal record.

Although an internship is a great way to get young people to work and ascertain what they want to do with their life, expecting them to work full-time for free is shocking and illegal. A healthy economy relies on its young people to be nurtured and improved through the world of work, so businesses should stop taking advantage of desperate students, ready to do anything, as long as it gets them on the career ladder.

Young people may look like they’re full of energy and vigour, but no-one can feasibly work full time during the week, followed by night shifts in the evening, just so they can afford to eat. They need to feel as if they deserve to be paid for their services and that their work is valuable. Where possible, students and graduates must be firm about unpaid internships. In the long-term, unpaid work should be completely outlawed, and holding companies accountable for national minimum wage transgressions is the first step.