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Unpaid Internships: A farcical way to start working life

By Samuel Millen-Cramer Feb 28, 2015
Credit: REX

The process of gaining relevant work experience as a student or graduate often hinges on a sly bit of nepotism – sending the cover letter to end all cover letters or simply working 40 hours a week with no renumeration at all. In a climate where zero-hour contracts are becoming normal and every graduate job has, as of July 2014, 39 applicants, it’s clear to see why an unpaid internship may seem like the only way into an industry of desire.

In November 2014, a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report found that up to 22,000 interns may be working unpaid. According to the Sutton Trust, an educational charity, that means 31 percent of interns recieve no pay for their work.

In my own experience, I can say I’ve thankfully never worked in an unpaid position, and generally find it morally incomprehensible, but there’s something to be said for those who want to get into a profession so much that they will work the 40 hour weeks with only their travel paid for. While the morals of an employer offering an unpaid position isn’t clear-cut, what’s obvious is graduates’ desires to get their foot in the industry door.

Where unpaid internships are concerned, the for argument becomes completely futile when thinking about how much an unpaid intern would be costing themselves by working unpaid for six months (the normal internship period). The Sutton trust found that an unpaid intern in London can expect to be spending £926 per month on living cost, including rent. These costs vary depending where in the UK the intern is based but nonetheless, it’s simply not feasible to suggest that a graduate could cope with these extortionate expenses.

The process of offering an unpaid internship is actually illegal in the UK, something that many people forget. However, by an employer offering to pay measly daily expenses, they are evading the illegality of the situation. For some graduates who have never worked in a full time position, they may feel that expenses of £110 per week is a compensation worthy of their time and effort at university, but it’s not. The process of completing a degree is a long and arduous one and to only be offered lunch and travel costs at the end of it is truly farcical.

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