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by Hans Crusim

Unpaid internships: “a scourge on social mobility”

In the later months of 2016, Conservative MP, Alec Shelbroke sponsored a piece of legislation that would ban unpaid internships in the country with the intention of advocating social mobility in the UK.

The Tory, whilst speaking in Parliament, denounced the notion of unpaid internships saying that such a concept “should have no place in a meritocratic country that aims to work for the many and not a privileged few…”

The proposed National Minimum Wage legislation, which targeted the area of workplace internships, would make it a requirement that companies hiring interns would have to pay them at least the minimum wage (£7.20 per hour at the time) forbidding businesses to give no payment or just giving those hired enough money to cover travel and any other basic expenses surrounding the job.

Placing a particular spotlight on the media and fashion industry, employment minister Damian Hinds told ITV “I think it is important that young people have an opportunity to get work experience. One of the big barriers to getting a job is not having had employment experience and so there is a role for work experience. But I think particularly in the media, in fashion, in these very sought-after occupations, there is a concern, that with unpaid internships those aren’t actually accessible to everybody and I think it is right that we look at it.”

MPs and any other political figures in the media that advocate social mobility have considered that those who came from more privileged financial backgrounds still have an advantage to those who don’t. A lot of students still can’t afford to take an unpaid internship, especially those living in cities due to the higher cost of living, which is in itself a problem as was said by the employment minister that experience in a practical sense is a barrier for employment to those who just acquired their qualifications.

When it comes to those who come from richer backgrounds they’re able to afford the cost of those unpaid positions and by nature they have a lot more opportunities which in turn means they can possibly advance faster in their respected fields. In the words of Ben Lyons, Intern-Aware co-director, “…it is a major issue, which is reducing social mobility and pricing young people out of professions…”

This legislation, which at its core fought for equal opportunity, was blocked by the Government, contradicting Theresa May’s promise to progress social mobility.

Many other Conservatives blocked the progress of the legislation (which happened the first time a bill like this was put through but blocked by ex-Prime Minister David Cameron) and instead offered an alternative to first review the employment practice of unpaid internships. Mathew Taylor- Tony Blair’s ex advisor will be undertaking this review.

No doubt implying that the legislation was blocked due to inner party advantages, Shelbrooke called out the fact that “a quick scan of the (w4mp) website shows roughly 22 MPs advertising for unpaid interns outside of the politics and parliamentary study scheme” He continues that “It sends a message to businesses across the United Kingdom that exploiting young workers is acceptable.”

Now what do young workers themselves think?

Shortly after articles were published regarding the legislation many, presumed, young people went onto Twitter to have their say about the bill.

(Quotes taken from Huffington Post)

@MoiAustrianEcon: @LBC You idiots, without unpaid internships how the hell are students going to get the chance to earn experience. It’s already hard.”

@_CaitlinDoherty: Can’t help but feel that a ban on unpaid internships won’t mean that interns start getting paid, but that companies stop offering positions.

@TypicalTory: @TelegraphNews I completely disagree with banning unpaid internships. They are a brilliant way of gaining experience and deciding whether or not a position.

These are just some of the people who voiced their opinion. @LHB even went on to conduct a poll on the social media site asking their followers if unpaid internships should be banned. The poll garnered a total of 1,340 votes with 69% voting Yes and 31% voting No.

The debate of banning unpaid internships is not a recent development and I’m sure it will continue to be a topic of discussion in the future. Progressives will no doubt continue to push legislations such as these, like they’ve done once before, whether the review will have an consequential outcome on the matter, we’ve yet to see.