The High Pay Commission — the independent body set up in November 2010 to investigate the reasons for the vast gap between the top-earners and lowest earners in the UK — has advertised for an unpaid intern to work at their London head office.

That’s right. It seems they really are that stupid.

The ad — which appeared on the notorious w4mp website — advertised for a ‘Project Intern’ to work at their head office in London, for 2 days a week for a period of 2-3 months, ‘paying’ travel and lunch expenses only:

Project Intern
Posted: 26 January 11
Working: for High Pay Commission
Salary: Reasonable travel expenses and lunch only

Details: The High Pay Commission is an independent inquiry into top pay in the private sector. It will look at the reasons for the gap between high and low pay in the UK in recent years and why this matters.

We are looking to recruit an intern for 2-3 months to support work on the Commission 2 days a week.

We are looking for either an undergraduate or graduate with a general interest in politics. An understanding of business or economics is desirable but not essential.

The main duties will include:
– Admin (eg. mail outs, updating databases, website editing etc)
– Researching
– Event organising
– Website updates.

Skills required:
– Good IT skills (web-based research, PowerPoint, Word and Excel)
– Good administrative skills
– Self motivation and accuracy/attention to detail.

We are looking to recruit someone who can ideally start immediately. Office is located on Albert embankment.

Closes: 21 February 2011. Applications will be considered on a first come first served basis and we may fill the position before the closing date.

Contact: Applications should be made by a short covering letter (300 words max) and CV to XXX@highpaycommission.co.uk.

Website: http://highpaycommission.co.uk/

People. You are the HIGH PAY COMMISSION. Your website states:

Over the last 30 years pay at the top has increased, and pay differentials have grown. The Commission provides an opportunity to explore and understand the drivers behind this trend and to look at its effects. It will also seek to look at reforms that could to mitigate or reduce this trend.

So what on EARTH do you think you’re doing advertising for a junior member of staff to come and work at your organisation, unpaid?

I emailed the Commission:

From: Graduate Fog
To: High Pay Commission
Subject: Press comment about your unpaid internship
Wednesday 26 January 2011, 18:02


My name is Tanya de Grunwald and I run a graduate careers advice website called Graduate Fog.

I am surprised to see that you are openly advertising for an unpaid intern to help you at the High Pay Commission:


As we all know, unpaid internships have become commonplace. However, it is my belief that they are ethically dubious – and their legal status is unclear. My understanding is that there is currently a loophole in the law designed to protect genuine volunteering for charities – but it is my belief that this is being exploited by many large charitable organisations and other non-profits like yourselves who are simply looking to cut their costs at the expense of their most junior members of staff.

Your ad goes into detail about the experience and skills required and as such, in my opinion, the role that you describe in your advertisement is not one of a true charitable volunteer. As such, it is my belief that it is only right and fair that this role should be paid at least the NMW.

Even if we set your legal obligations aside for a moment, does the High Pay Commission not agree that unpaid internships exploit those who do them – and exclude those who can’t afford to do them? Your use of unpaid interns seems at odds with everything that the High Pay Commission is supposed to represent. Frankly, I would expect your organisation to be more careful about being seen to take advantage of young workers like this. Do you not agree that you are effectively only offering this career opportunity only to those who can afford to work for free, thereby excluding those who can’t afford this ‘luxury’?

I will be blogging about this later in the week and would be very grateful if somebody from your organisation would care to comment on this at your earliest convenience? Are you willing to reconsider your position and turn this role into a paid opportunity?

With many thanks


Tanya de Grunwald
Graduate Fog

Happily, it seems there is at least one person working at the High Pay Commission who has half a braincell:

From: High Pay Commission
To: Graduate Fog
Re: Press comment about your unpaid internship
Thursday, 27 January 2011, 2011 8:18

Dear Tanya,

Thank you for your email and raising our attention to this issue.

As I’m sure you are aware — it is common practice in not-for-profit organisations and political groups to take on interns to do voluntary work. However, I think you are right and it is a practice that is unfair, which is why we have now requested that the advert be taken down.

However, I would ask a question which I would genuinely appreciate your response to. We realise that when graduates leave university or when individuals want a career change it can be incredibly difficult to find paid work in the field they want to work in.

They are in a catch 22 situation, where employers want experience or at least demonstrable proof that this is a field which you want to work in and that you know what it involves. If you don’t have the family connections already, this can be an enormous road-block.

Knowing this we specifically only asked for someone to do 1 or 2 days a week for 1 or 2 months (they could end up doing as little as 4 days) so that you could feasibly work at the same time, or do it while you are studying; we advertised on a public webspace so that anyone could take us up on the offer, not just those with the right connections; and we offered to pay travel expenses and lunch, and travel expenses would not have been limited to London, so it really was open to anyone.

We realise that the language used in the advert was not appropriate, however, we would still like to offer people the chance to get their foot in the door, so to speak. If we offered people the chance to shadow a member of staff or to volunteer while they are at university would that be more acceptable?

I do understand the difficulty of the situation for young people trying to find paid employment, particularly at this time, and would appreciate your input.



Zoe Gannon
Head of Research &
Clerk to the Commission
High Pay Commission

I was itching to respond to her, but have decided to leave that juicy opportunity to you lot, the Foggers. What should Zoe do?

Is this really a ‘Catch 22’ – or are tight-fisted employers just taking advantage of young people’s desperation to gain experience?

Also, there is a weird PS to this story.

When I checked back a day later, the role had not been removed from W4MP. I emailed Zoe to ask what was happening. This was her response:

From: High Pay Commission
To: Graduate Fog
Thursday 27 January 2011, 18.12


They won’t take them down as apparently they get complaints from people wanting to apply – but you will note it says at the bottom that we have withdrawn the position.



Sorry but does ANYBODY understand this? And if so, can you explain it to me?

If it’s the High Pay Commission’s ad, why on earth don’t they have the right to ask W4MP to remove the ad? How on earth can a ‘dead’ ad for a job that doesn’t exist be better for their users than removing it?

I was also concerned that even though the post now says this internship no longer exists, Zoe’s contact details remain clear as day. So what’s to stop young people desperate for experience from applying? And would the High Pay Commission really bin their applications?

So I replied to Zoe:

Eh? Sorry but I’ve never heard such nonsense in my life… I just can’t see how having a ‘dead’ job ad live on their site is serving anybody but them. Can you give me the details for your contact at W4MP? For them to refuse to take it down is downright bizarre.

Thanks Zoe


She has just emailed w4mp’s details, so I’ll drop them a line. They’ve been getting on my nerves for ages so it will be nice to say hello. I’ll be sure to keep you posted…

* What should we tell Zoe to do about her ‘Catch 22’ situation?
Are you impressed that the High Pay Commission has removed their ad (or tried to)? Or are you still reeling from the fact that they thought that advertising for this role was ever okay?

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