Thought leadership

Most people back a change in the law to ban unpaid internships that last at least four weeks, a new report reveals.

A study by the Social Mobility Commission found that four out of five members of the public believe firms should advertise work experience and internship placements rather than organise them through informal networks.

A survey of almost 5,000 adults by the independent body on social mobility showed that three out of four supported a change in the law.

The poll was published ahead of the second reading of Lord Holmes of Richmond’s Private Member’s Bill in the House of Lords proposing a ban on unpaid work experience or internships lasting four weeks or more.

Former Labour cabinet member Alan Milburn, who chairs the Social Mobility Commission, said: “Unpaid internships are a modern scandal which must end. Internships are the new rung on the career ladder.

“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. It is time to consign them to history.”

Lord Holmes of Richmond added: “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.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “Unpaid internships are a major obstacle to social mobility.

“Unpaid internships prevent young people from low and moderate income backgrounds from getting into some of the most competitive sectors like the media, the city and the arts.”

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