Unpaid internships are a “modern scandal” that must end – social mobility commission

The majority of people back a ban on unpaid work experience which lasts for more than four weeks – but the Government argues that a ban is “legally unnecessary”.

According to the research, published by the Social Mobility Commission, three-quarters of people would get behind a law which stops companies from exploiting unpaid interns.

The mountain of evidence against the practice will be presented to Government later this week.

Around 70,000 underpaid internships take place each year, the majority of them a prerequisite to getting a full-time placement. But Alan Milburn, chairman of the Commission, said the issue was a “modern scandal” that must end.

Mr Milburn said: “They have become a route to a good professional job, but access to them tends to depend on who not what you know and young people from low-income backgrounds are excluded because they are unpaid.

“They miss out on a great career opportunity and employers miss out from a wider pool of talent. Unpaid internships are damaging for social mobility.”

Lord Holmes of Richmond, who will introduce the Private members Bill, said: “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.

“The practice is clearly discriminatory, crushes creativity and competitiveness and holds individuals and our country back.

“It’s time we consigned them to the past, to the novels of Dickens.”

This is not the first time the practice has been argued against. In November last year, an attempt to ban unpaid internships was blocked by the Government, which argued that the proposal could “undermine existing employment laws”.

In November, business minister Margot James said the bill was legally “unnecessary”.

She said: “While it’s extremely well-intentioned, I do have concerns that it could have unintended consequences that might even undermine existing employment laws and protections.

“Legally the bill is unnecessary because… interns are eligible for the National Minimum Wage if they meet the definition of ‘worker’.

“It doesn’t matter what the individual or employer calls the arrangement, or whether or not the individual agreed not to be paid, only the reality of the employment arrangement matters and if interns are workers they are entitled to be paid.”

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