As youth unemployment has soared, Britain’s elected MPs – from millionaire Tory cabinet members to Labour backbenchers – have been disregarding the National Minimum Wage law by employing unpaid interns, a new Guardian report has found.

Since the general election in May 2010, 260 advertisements for unpaid placements have appeared on the Commons site Work for MP (w4mp). Many do not even pay expenses and some last as long as 10 months. And Louise Haigh, of the parliamentary staff branch of Unite union, said W4MP ads were only part of the picture, “We think there are 450 interns; 7% are paid a wage, and 20% are paid expenses.”

Thirteen Tory members of the government offered 28 placements lasting up to six months, out of 138 for Conservative MPs. These included seven internships culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, was exposed by Graduate Fog in October. Three are with the attorney general, Dominic Grieve and seven were with exchequer secretary to the Treasury David Gauke. Ministers Andrew Lansley, Grant Shapps and Andrew Mitchell also advertised.

Lib Dem ministers, MPs and president Tim Farron advertised for 67 for up to six months; 15 were offered even after Nick Clegg this spring condemned a culture of unpaid interns in government. Labour MPs placed 55 ads, four by shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, and six from shadow Treasury chief secretary Rachel Reeves.

Earlier this month, the Guardian also revealed that MPs have been warned that these placements are likely to be illegal – lawyers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills told them that “most interns are likely to be workers, and therefore entitled to the NMW.” Yet these new findings show that a large number of MPs are continuing to flout the law, claiming protection under a ruling by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which appears to exempt MPs from having to pay their interns.

Insiders say that the number of unpaid internships offered in Westminster has increased in recent months, as graduates have become ever more desperate for experience within the corridors of power. There are now real fears that a new political class could be emerging, drawn from those whose parents are rich enough to support months of unpaid work. Those unable to afford this ‘luxury’ are effectively being locked out of careers in politics.

The attorney general Dominic Grieve said he did not think he was breaching minimum wage law by using unpaid interns, telling the Guardian: “I’ve done it in conformity with what’s been suggested by the Ipsa,” adding there was “no money to pay them” anyway, and he set a three-month limit. He said that he advertised on the W4MP website to “broaden the pool” of his intake.

“Some people really want to come in … And, quite frankly, with the current state of the economy I can understand,” he said.

Have you worked as an unpaid interns for an MP? At a time of record youth unemployment, is it in bad taste that MPs are being allowed to exploit young workers? Share your views here!

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