Majority would support a ban on unpaid internships, survey shows

Commission warns unpaid internships and work experience are damaging to social mobility.

A large majority of the UK public would support a ban on unpaid internships and work experience lasting longer than four weeks, according to the findings of a new poll published today (Monday).

The poll of nearly 5,000 people by the pollsters YouGov, on behalf of the Social Mobility Commission, found 72% of the UK public would support a change in the law, with 42% ‘strongly’ in favour of a ban.

Only 5% of the public would oppose a ban, while 14% said they ‘don’t know’.

Four in five people (80%) also believe companies should be more open and transparent when advertising internships and work experience opportunities within their business.

The findings have been published ahead of the second reading of Lord Holmes of Richmond’s Private Members’ Bill in the House of Lords on Friday 27 October, which calls for a ban on unpaid work experience or internships lasting more than four weeks.

The call echos those made by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and the Institute for Public Policy Research, who have also called for a four-week limit, as new evidence shows the number of people on unpaid internships has increased by around 70,000 a year.

Alan Milburn, Chair of 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 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.”

Ben Lyons, Chair of Intern Aware, a campaign dedicated to promoting fair access to internships, added: “The government needs to show that it cares about the next generation, and crack down on long-term unpaid internships which exclude young people who can’t afford to work for free for months on end.”

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