London internships: Six in 10 paid less than the minimum wage

London internships - 6 in 10 pay less than the minimum wageUK CAPITAL HAS ‘A BIG PROBLEM’ WITH UNPAID INTERNSHIPS, FINDS DAMNING NEW REPORT

More than six in 10 London internships are paid less than the minimum wage and unpaid internships are ‘a big problem’ in the capital, according to a damning new report released today.

The London Assembly Economy Committee has investigated the extent of internships in the capital, including the balance of paid or unpaid internships, access to London internship opportunities, and the benefits of paid internships to London’s young people and businesses.

The Committee has published a summary of the findings of two surveys – one of young Londoners and one of current or former interns. Internships are commonplace but London has a major problem with unpaid internships.

While the results won’t surprise many Graduate Fog readers, they are still interesting. The survey discovered that:

  • One third of young Londoners who responded had been or were currently an intern
  • Fewer than 4 in 10 are paid the National Minimum Wage or above (meaning more than 6 in ten were paid less than the NMW)
  • Five times as many young people said they would be able to do an internship if they were paid the London Living Wage.

The report also found that not all internships are publicly advertised, which further excludes less well-connected young Londoners from these opportunities. One fifth of current and former interns said they had heard about their most recent internship through personal contacts.

But there was some good news – as the statistics will help to build the ‘business case’ for paying interns. As well as limiting the pool of talent available and risking the employer’s reputation, the Committee also heard that unpaid interns are likely to be less productive than paid interns.

The Committee has written to the Mayor with a number of recommendations, urging Boris Johnson to:

  • Develop a policy position on internships
  • Promote good quality paid internships in London, calling for internships longer than four weeks to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage, and preferably the London Living Wage
  • Be part of an awareness-raising campaign on the rights of interns and make clear to business the legal requirements and benefits of paying interns
  • Address the lack of data on internships and commission more research to understand the role of internships in London and to target further interventions

Jenny Jones AM, Chair of the Economy Committee said:

“Internships should be fair and accessible to all, and they deserve to be paid. The cost of living is much higher in London and unpaid internships are a big problem, especially in sectors like the media, politics and the fashion industry, where London leads the world.

“The Committee heard very positive examples of paid internships benefiting both young people and organisations.

“It’s a question of social mobility – unpaid internships limit the numbers of young people who are able to do them as a step in their career. The Mayor should make a stand and get involved in ensuring they’re accessible for all.”

Chris Hares, campaign manager at Intern Aware, agreed – and urged the Mayor to support the proposed ‘four-week limit’. This small change will be significant legally, as it means that after a month of interning unpaid, it will be the employer’s responsibility to prove their intern is not a ‘worker’ under NMW law (rather than the intern having to prove later that they are). Hares said:

“The Mayor, the Government, and political parties of all sides need to get a grip on this situation, and act in the best interests of young people and businesses alike.

“In fact, two-thirds of business have said they would welcome clarity in the law on internships. Most recognise that unpaid internships are actually damaging to businesses, as they only allow them to select talented young people from a limited pool of people who can afford to work for free.

“That is why we ask the Mayor to support the report’s call of ending unpaid internships of longer than four weeks, and for him to champion the four week limit being supported by a wide range of businesses, universities, relevant organisations and young people.”

Graduate Fog is always happy when new evidence emerges which supports our claim that unpaid internships are a major societal problem which deserves serious attention. But really, these new stats only tell us what Graduate Fog’s readers already know. Surely there is now enough evidence to back young people’s cries for better enforcement of the minimum wage law, and tougher punishments for employers who continue to ignore it. What the UK’s young workers want is less talk, more action. Let’s hope Boris steps up. Frankly, it’s about time.

*ARE YOU A LONDON INTERN?
How much are you paid per month – and how to you make ends meet? Have you borrowed money from your parents? What benefits are you claiming in order to survive? If you’re paid less than the minimum wage, how does your employer justify your low wages?

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