Aquarter of internships are unpaid, Sutton Trust finds

New Sutton Trust research has found that over a quarter of internships in the UK are unpaid, with numbers rising shockingly high for those in retail, media and the arts.

Twenty-seven per cent of Graduates have taken on an unpaid internship, with many having to rely on parents, friends and second jobs to get by, according to new research from the Sutton Trust.
Pay As You Go, based on YouGov surveys of graduates and employers commissioned by the Sutton Trust, gives a detailed view, for the first time, of the types of internships that graduates are completing in their first few years in the job market.

The research finds that graduate internships appear to be on the rise, with 46 per cent of 21-23 year olds having done one, compared to 37 per cent of 27-29 year olds. Younger graduates are also more likely to have taken on more than one internship. According to the report, there are around 100,000 interns working in Britain every year, with around 58,000 unpaid.

In many top professions, internships are seen as a requirement before a first job. But previous research by the Sutton Trust found that an unpaid internship now costs a single person living in London a minimum of £1,100 per month. The significant costs associated with unpaid internships are shutting many less advantaged young people out of careers. In prestigious industries such as media and the arts (including fashion, theatre and tv), up to 86 per cent of internships on offer are unpaid.

The report takes an in-depth look at internships in politics and finds that 31 per cent of staff working in the offices of MPs and Peers in Westminster had completed unpaid work, including 36 per cent of Labour staffers and 28 per cent of Conservatives. Just half of staffers (51 per cent) had found their current job through an advertisement, with over a quarter (26 per cent) gaining it through personal connections.

According to today’s research, a large proportion (43 per cent) of unpaid interns rely on living for free with family and friends to get by. Just over a quarter (26 per cent) relied on money from their parents while a similar number (27 per cent) had to work another paid job in order to fund their internship.

The report also finds that both graduates and employers are confused about the current law on unpaid internships. Under national minimum wage legislation, interns must be paid if they are expected to work set hours or on set tasks. Up to 50 per cent of employers and 37 per cent of graduates surveyed were not aware most such unpaid internships are likely to be illegal.

While doing an internship is associated with higher salaries, there is some evidence that doing multiple unpaid internships may actually have a negative impact on employment and wages. This suggests that many young people in certain industries are being trapped in cycles of unpaid placements without significant benefits to their career. Many internships offer little in the way of training, and are instead focused on completing necessary work for their employer. Seventy per cent of employers say that interns do useful work for their business.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said,

Unpaid internships prevent young people from low and moderate-income backgrounds from accessing careers in some of the most desirable sectors such as journalism, fashion, the arts and law. This is a huge social mobility issue.  It prevents these young people from getting a foot on the ladder. In order to help tackle this situation internships should be advertised, not offered through informal networks.  This locks out the many young people who don’t have connections. The legal grey area around internships allows employers to offer unpaid internships with impunity. That is why the law should be changed.  We are advocating that all internships over four weeks should be required to pay at least the National Minimum Wage and preferably the Living Wage.

Interested to find out more about internships and attracting the best young talent?  Find out more by attending our Early Talent Forum  2019





Aphrodite is a creative writer and editor specialising in publishing and communications. She is passionate about undertaking projects in diverse sectors. She has written and edited copy for media as varied as social enterprise, art, fashion and education. She is at her most happy owning a project from its very conception, focusing on the client and project research in the first instance, and working closely with CEOs and Directors throughout the consultation process. Much of her work has focused on rebranding; messaging and tone of voice is one of her expertise, as is a distinctively unique writing style in my most of her creative projects. Her work is always driven by the versatility of language to galvanise image and to change perception, as it is by inspiring and being inspired by the wondrous diversity of people with whom paths she crosses cross!

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