New research reveals the majority of the UK public support a ban of unpaid internships that last more than four weeks


According to new polling data by the Social Mobility Commission, nearly three quarters (72%) of respondents support a ban on unpaid internships that last more than 4 weeks and 42% also strongly support the proposed change in the law.

The survey has been released ahead of the second reading of Lord Holmes of Richmond’s Private Members Bill in the House of Lords on Friday 27 October. The bill hopes to prohibit unpaid work experience lasting more than 4 weeks.

Lord Holmes of Richmond explains his opposition to unpaid internships stating “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.”

Changes clearly need to be made, as research released by IPPR in April found that the number of internships offered to graduates had doubled since 2010 and nearly half of the employers offering these internships admitted that candidates without this work experience ‘have little or no chance of receiving a job offer’.

The rise of internships seems to be a result of organisations shifting their focus to harnessing in-house talent to mitigate against the ongoing skill shortages. Latest research from the CIPD revealed that 75% of organisations are choosing to develop more talent in-house in 2017 which is a distinct increase from 48% of firms in 2016.

The issue still remains that while these internships may open doors for graduates to work for top firms, they are still discriminatory as most graduates who come from a low or moderate-income background can’t afford to have their parents support them while they essentially work for free.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, adds, “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.”

To prevent internships being a barrier to social mobility IPPR proposes the following changes, to stop them from being offered to just the privileged few:

  • Unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks should be banned in private companies
  • A ‘National Opportunity Programme’ should be introduced, offering residential internships for disadvantaged young people from areas which suffer from a lack of social mobility
  • Every student should be able to access a brokered work placement at University
  • A new association should be established to give a stronger political voice to interns

Ben Lyons, Chair of Intern Aware, adds, ”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.”