Interns’ rights campaigners have accused politicians of “cowardice” after it emerged that they have been deliberately ignoring warnings about the damage unpaid internships are doing for A YEAR AND A HALF. Several new documents – unearthed by Interns Anonymous, friends of Graduate Fog – have revealed that the Government was first warned by in July 2010 that unpaid internships are illegal and damaging for social mobility.

But it appears that these warnings were ignored, betraying hundreds of thousands of young people. Why? Because clamping down on the practice would clash with the Government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda, and plans to increase the number of internships – paid or unpaid – as a method of getting young people into work. Joseph Thomas, policy officer for Interns Anonymous – which put in the Freedom of Information request that led to the exposure of the documents – told Saturday’s Guardian:

“These documents show cowardice and a lack of determination to do anything. I think it is indicative of a deeper problem in society in that as long as my kids, people like us, are all right, we don’t need to do anything about it.

“We speak to interns who say they love the [current] system as it gives them an advantage over equally qualified people. To take proper actions that create a meritocracy, no one is willing to push for that.”

The Guardian piece also revealed:

Advisers warned politicians that the “the concept [of internships] has become endemic,” in two briefing documents dated 15 July and 15 September 2010, addressed to higher education minister David Willetts and Lib Dem junior minister Ed Davey, who is in charge of employment relations at BIS.

Civil servants also advised that the only internships that do not breach the minimum wage laws are likely to be short-term placements, normally classified as work experience. “Legal colleagues take the view that most interns are likely to be workers and therefore entitled to the NMW and other worker rights,” the document states.

A second Whitehall document, which presents policy options for ministers, showed options that would have increased social mobility were not recommended for fear of damaging the government’s policy of increasing the number of internships — paid or not — available to young people.

Civil servants also recommended that policies to ban unpaid internships, which greatly increase access to work experience to those from poorer backgrounds, would have an adverse affect on the government’s big society agenda.

The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that government-run job-centres are recommending that unemployed youth take up long-term “work experience”, including positions at supermarkets, to help them gain further skills.

Out of 1,709 vacancies currently posted on the Government-backed internships job board the Graduate Talent Pool, 624 are unpaid. The Department for Business spends £250,000 a year on the site. Of the arts internships advertised, 92% were unpaid. Seventy-seven per cent of advertised fashion internships were unpaid, and 76% of PR internships were unpaid. Half of the media internships were unpaid.

Graduate Fog shares Interns Anonymous’ outrage at what appears to be an 18-month conspiracy against young people, in which the rights and futures of interns were sidelined simply because the issue was awkward and inconvenient for this Government. Although we have suspected for some time that campaigners and interns were being deliberately stonewalled, seeing it in black and white is astonishing. It is a shocking betrayal of our country’s hard-working young people.

*Are you shocked by this Government conspiracy against interns?
How does it make you feel to know that our politicians have been deliberately ignoring this issue? Did you assume they were just incompetent? Do the new documents confirm your suspicions that our politicians don’t really have your best interests at heart?

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