Nick Clegg has been ridiculed after it emerged that he himself had benefited from doing an unpaid internship early on in his career. The revelation came on the day that he was launching new measures to tackle social mobility among young people in Britain. (“Daddy got Clegg bank intern job”).

Graduate Fog thinks Nick Clegg is guilty of many things (!) – but he should not be attacked for having done an unpaid internship. Yes, it’s unfair that some young people can afford to work unpaid and others can’t. But interns – and their families, who may have helped them find these placements – are NOT the villains here. This applies whether the placement happened last week or 25 years ago, as in Clegg’s case. Doing an unpaid internship is not a crime.

Let’s be very clear who the real villains are in the story of unpaid internships. They are:

– The big companies that can well afford to pay their young staff – but choose not to because they’re too tight

– The small businesses who claim they don’t have the funds (yet) to pay all the junior staff they need, so make out that the experience is payment enough (Our National Minimum Wage law disagrees)

– The charities and non-profits which use emotional blackmail to make interns feel greedy for asking for a salary – when everybody else working there gets paid (Aren’t charity people lovely?)

– The intern ‘brokers’ who profit from the work of interns – while the interns themselves earn less than the NMW

– The universities which promote unpaid internships to their students and graduates, even though AGCAS continually reminds its members they are likely to be illegal

– The government officials who have failed to enforce the NMW legislation. (It is “not a good use of public money”, they told Graduate Fog).

– The politicians who have failed to kick the officials’ arses into protecting young workers (because they DO deserve the NMW).

– And the media, for keeping this issue off the main news agenda for way too long. (Hm, any idea why THAT might be..?)

So the interns themselves are not the villains here – they are the victims. Which is why Clegg’s ‘dodgy intern past’ is a non-story.

What IS a story is the number of MPs and councillors of all parties who continue to use unpaid interns – whilst pretending to care about social mobility.

And what IS embarrassing is the fact that Nick Clegg himself used unpaid interns, not that long ago.

(One of Clegg’s former interns – Jonny Medland – told reporters yesterday that he was only paid travel and food expenses when he worked for him in 2007. This shows there was a time when Clegg was on the ‘wrong’ side of this issue – which undermines his credibility when lecturing others on the ‘right’ way to do things now. It also shows that although Clegg says he felt exploited when he worked unpaid, that clearly didn’t stop him from doing it to someone else when he was in a position to take advantage. Again, this is not a good look).

That said, in 2011 finding someone who has NEVER hired an unpaid intern is a serious challenge. If we discover that Clegg uses unpaid interns now, I would be deeply unimpressed. But as far as we know that is not the case. Unless I have misunderstood this, all Clegg is saying that unpaid internships happen, we’re all guilty of taking advantage of young people – and it needs to stop.

I am pleased to see this issue finally taking its place in the main news agenda – but I suspect solving this complex problem will be more difficult than Clegg anticipates. For one thing, encouraging interns to report their employers will not be easy. Putting the burden on them is not fair – and it won’t work. Why on earth would you report someone you’re trying to impress?

If Clegg really wants to fix this problem, he needs to understand it first. Social mobility schemes, targets and quotas aren’t the answer here. We already have a National Minimum Wage law – let’s enforce it for all workers, including young people.

Of course, this is unlikely to appeal to Clegg because it means going after the real villains (see above) – and he will find that they’re sitting all around him. Let’s hope he’s ready to lose a few friends.

PS. IMO Clegg also needs to re-think the supposedly generous pledge that Lib Dem interns will now receive travel expenses and up to £5 for lunch. Since when did reimbursing employees for money they have spent by working for you make someone a hero?

*Do you think Clegg’s past as an unpaid intern makes him a hypocrite?

Do you think he’s plans to improve social mobility for young people are sincere? Or will his betrayal over tuition fees always undermine his credibility? Or do you not really care and just wish he’d sort out the current mess so you can start getting on with your career?

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap