The government is considering banning unpaid internships, with the aim of making work experience opportunities more available to people from lower income backgrounds.
The move is part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s promise to make the country work for everyone, not just those with plenty of cash in the bank.
The Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, Damian Hinds, confirmed that Ministers will be reviewing the unpaid internships situation as a matter of urgency.
If it goes ahead, the new National Minimum Wage (Workplace Internships) Bill will require firms to pay at least the national minimum wage to all adults undertaking internships. School aged children, university and college students carrying out work experience and those on apprenticeships would not be included in the bill’s mandate.
The review follows mounting concern that young adults from families with lower incomes are being routinely excluded from internships because they simply cannot afford to do them unpaid.
Popular industries such as fashion and the media are particularly problematic, say the experts, because competition is so fierce that people are willing to do the job for free, sometimes for months on end. Only those whose parents can afford to keep them during this time, often paying for extra living expenses or rent, can take an internship position on these terms.
Mr Hinds spoke on television about the barriers faced by some young people who need to get work experience in their chosen industries, but cannot afford to pay living expenses while taking part in unpaid internships.
The chief community officer of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Katerina Rudiger, said the organisation would support a ban. She explained that as it stands, a large number of people are excluded from the job market because of their parents’ income.
She added that banning any unpaid internships would help to create more job opportunities for people from a larger range of backgrounds, and would ultimately increase social equality in the workplace.
In addition to the National Minimum Wage bill, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Alec Shelbrooke, a Conservative MP, is calling for the House of Commons to invoke a ban on unpaid work, in order to end what he calls young workers’ exploitation.
Mr Shelbrooke explained that a number of well-known and successful businesses, such as EY, Pimlico Plumbers and KPMG, already pay their interns, so there is no excuse for other companies not to do the same.
He suggested that if the country wants to promote equality instead of catering to the privileged, firms must be made to pay all of their workers, not just some.
Tanya de Grunwald, the founder of Graduate Fog, a careers blog, agreed it was time that the government looked at the issue. She said that young people have been asking for change in the way internships are paid for a long time, and would welcome any call for their opinions to be heard.