Nick Clegg’s office has told Graduate Fog that the he will not be supporting Hazel Blears’ bill to make it illegal to advertise unpaid internships, despite widespread support for the idea among young people and campaigners.

Apparently, the deputy prime minister – who we understand would have been a useful ally for Blears – fears that outlawing these adverts will have “unintended consequences” and create a “black market” where the best internships will only be available to those with the contacts to hear about them informally, via family or friends already working in those professions. The spokesperson also stressed that Hazel Blears’ bill “in no way means that this will become law,” saying it was merely “an opportunity for debate.” In an email to Graduate Fog, he explained said:

“The Deputy Prime Minister is at the forefront of the Government’s drive to improve social mobility.  Part of that has been establishing the social mobility Business Compact – an unprecedented partnership between the Government and more than 100 of the country’s biggest businesses to open up career opportunities, including internships, to all young people in a fair and transparent way.

“We want to bring an end to the ‘who you know not what you know’ culture. But there are possible unintended consequences of legislating on this issue — it could actually be entirely counterproductive and force these valuable opportunities back on to a kind of ‘black market’ where the vacancies are filled by people with the best connections.

“We encourage employers to offer financial support in order to ensure fair access to those opportunities — that could be payment of at least the appropriate national minimum wage rate, or reasonable out of pocket expenses.”

Call us naive, but Graduate Fog does actually believe that Nick Clegg cares about this issue. Why else would he pick a massive fight with David Cameron over it?

(For those with hazy memories, when the prime minister said he was “very relaxed” about giving internships to personal acquaintances, Clegg hit back saying “I’m not relaxed about this [issue] at all”.)

Unfortunately, we fear he thinks he understands it better than he actually does. In particular, Clegg seems to be fixated on the unfairness of the nepotism aspect of internships, when Graduate Fog’s users tell us that by far the bigger issue is pay. (After all, if you could be paid to do your internship, you could create your own contacts and connections to push your career further once you’ve got your foot in the door). So Graduate Fog wrote back to Clegg’s people:

To: Nick Clegg’s Office
From: Graduate Fog
Date: Wednesday 12 December 2012, 3.09pm
Subject: Re: Comment about Hazel Blears’ 10-minute rule bill

Thanks for this.

However, we are alarmed that the statement seems to be suggesting that Nick Clegg doesn’t support Hazel Blears’ bill. Is that the case?

If so, we are concerned that he may not be as in touch with this issue as he thinks he is. News of the bill has received universal support from my users, regardless of their economic background.

While we understand Mr Clegg’s concern about this legislation having the unintended consequence of creating a ‘black market’ for internships which would go to only the very well-connected, we believe any problem here would be far outweighed by the benefits the legislation would bring.

Mr Clegg may be interested to learn that – perhaps surprisingly – the connections / ‘who you know’ issue is far less important to young jobseekers than the pay issue. In fact, many are actually in favour of the idea that connections can give them the edge on finding out about the best opportunities. Don’t forget, connections can be built from scratch by the young people themselves once they start work – and the vast majority feel this is fair and meritocratic. But for them to be able to even get into the workplace and start creating their own contacts, they must be paid for their work. That is why I and other campaigners are working so hard to enforce the minimum wage laws for internships.

It is on this issue of pay, that banning these adverts for unpaid internships would be enormously helpful. It would be a huge boost to the work of those of us who are trying to get the message out to young people – and employers – that unpaid internships are (usually) illegal. At present, too many people (both young people and employers) say to campaigners like us “But unpaid internships can’t be illegal – I see them advertised everywhere.” Currently, the widespread presence of these adverts undermines our work, confuses the message and legitimises this illegal and harmful practice. Removing these adverts would remove this confusion.

And finally, we would argue this legislation could actually help to reduce the likelihood of young people getting the best internships simply through their connections, and not on merit. Once employers start paying their interns a wage (a goal which this legislation would help towards achieving) it will be in the employers’ interests to ensure they get the best person for the ‘job’ – which isn’t necessarily going to be their friend’s son etc.

I am aware of Mr Clegg’s involvement with the social mobility Business Compact, and we are grateful for his support on this issue. However, as someone who speaks to unpaid interns every single day, I can tell him that this good work is proving to be very slow at actually improving the situation for young people. For one thing, big businesses are rarely the worst offenders when it comes to unpaid internships, so he is targeting the wrong organisations. By contrast, supporting this legislation would have an immediate impact across the board.

In light of these comments, will Mr Clegg reconsider supporting the bill?

Thanks again,

Tanya de Grunwald
Founder, Graduate Fog

PS. On your final point about Mr Clegg encouraging employers to behave responsibly, we would say that paying “reasonable out of pocket expenses” does not go nearly far enough to make a real difference to young people. Where interns are doing the job of a ‘worker’, their employer must obey the national minimum wage law and pay the full wage that is owed. Does Mr Clegg not agree with this?

We heard nothing back to chased them yesterday and received this response:

To: Graduate Fog
From: Nick Clegg’s Office
Date: Tuesday 18 December 2012, 4.52pm

Hi Tanya

Sorry for the delay in responding.

The response I provided sets out the DPM’s position on the 10 minute rule bill.

However, I’ll pass your comments on to someone else in our office who may have some comments on the specific points you make here, particularly about the business compact.

As you are no doubt aware, the fact that Hazel Blears is introducing a 10 minute rule bill in no way means that this will become law. It’s an opportunity for debate.

I can only go into the DPM’s position and into what he’s doing broadly about social mobility. HMRC are the home department who actually own the policy.

We’ll come back to you with any further comments shortly.

Many thanks,

Peter Graham
Chief Press Officer
Deputy Prime Minister / Minister for Constitutional Reform

Graduate Fog feels passionately that the hearing of this bill is a crucial moment in the fight for a fairer deal for interns. Seeing adverts for unpaid positions plastered all over the internet normalises and legitimises the practice, confusing the message to employers and young people about what is and isn’t legal. We are  keen to deepen Nick Clegg’s understanding of why this ban on advertising internships is so important. We will let you know when we hear more…


Would you like to see him support Hazel Blears’ bill to make it illegal to advertise illegal internships? Do you agree that it is an important step towards making all internships paid – and therefore fairer? Or do you think Clegg is right – and that a change to the law could create a “black market” for internships, where the best opportunities are only available to those with the best connections? We will tell Nick Clegg’s office when this post goes live, so if you want his people to know what you think, please take a few seconds to comment below. Thanks!

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