The Prime Minster has told the Daily Telegraph that he is “very relaxed” about the culture of internships – and has even awarded a placement at his office to a neighbour. He also admitted to benefitting from a “definite leg-up” internship himself, during the early years of his career.

These comments appear to show a shocking lack of understanding about an issue which Graduate Fog’s users know is already having a damaging impact on social mobility in this country. It also reinforces Graduate Fog’s belief that David Cameron simply doesn’t care about interns.

He also misses the point that the main problem with internships isn’t to do with connections – it’s to do with PAY.

Did you miss the interview? Here is an exerpt by Daily Telegraph journalist Allison Pearson:

He insists that he supports aspiration – the parents who want to do their best for their children, the sharp-elbowed middle classes. Would those be the same parents who Clegg says he plans to stop finding internships and work experience for their children? “Nick was trying to make a fair point,” says Cameron, mildly. “He was simply stating the danger of having a whole strata of people who never have the chance to get internships. Social mobility is in danger of stalling.”

In the next breath, the PM admits that he personally gives internships to children of friends and supporters. “Actually, I’ve got my neighbour coming in for an internship. In the modern world, of course you’re always going to have internships and interns – people who come and help in your office who come through all sorts of contacts, friendly, political, whatever. I do that and I’ll go on doing that. I feel very relaxed about it.”

The media has seized on Cameron’s admission as a demonstration of blinding differences between him and his deputy. In admitting to awarding internships himself, he has also admitted he is part of the problem. But – even more worryingly I think – his comments also show that our Prime Minister is a long way from ‘getting’ why this issue is so important.

As reported on Graduate Fog at the time of Clegg’s comments, I am concerned that media coverage of this story is confused and inconsistent. This means that we are still not getting to the heart of this problem – which is that most internships designed to be a ‘first rung on the ladder’ are not paid.

Perhaps surprisingly, comparatively few complaints on this website are from graduates who feel they have missed out on opportunities because somebody better connected has got there first.

As for these ‘sharp-elbowed parents’ that Clegg mentioned, do you really believe they in huge numbers? You certainly don’t seem to blame them for the fact that you’re struggling to gain the experience you need before applying for permanent graduate jobs.

Those of you who can’t afford to do unpaid internships are very clear on who you blame for keeping you locked out of the workforce – the tight-fisted EMPLOYERS who benefit from your work but won’t put their hand in their pocket to pay you what you’re worth.

The fact is that many internships are advertised widely. The big problem is that they are almost always unpaid. From what you tell me, THIS is by far the greater issue for those entering the workforce in 2011.

In most cases, interns are eligible for the National Minimum Wage, but employers don’t pay it because the law is simply not being enforced. THIS is what you are most angry with Cameron and Clegg for – their failure to get tough on employers who are taking advantage of young people’s desperation, in order to gain free labour for their organisation.

At present, most of Graduate Fog’s users believe that unpaid internships exploit those who do them and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. Ensuring that ALL interns were paid a proper wage for their work would widen access enormously, so that young workers from all backgrounds could compete on a more level playing field.

Yes, it’s annoying that a well-connected graduate may find it easier to secure some unpaid placements than a graduate without those connections. But the real issue is that whether that graduate is well-connected or not, they still won’t be paid for their work.

*Have I got this wrong?
Which bugs you more: that some young people are awarded internships because of who they (or their parents) know – or that the government has failed to clamp down on employers who continue to use interns as an endless supply of free labour?

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