It’s official – the number of young people who can’t afford to intern unpaid in London is far greater than the number who can. A must-read new survey – by the Unions21 Fair Work Commission – found that more than three in four  18- to 34-year-olds say they cannot afford to do an unpaid internship in the capital. Less a quarter say they can definitely, probably or maybe afford to work for free.

This confirms what Graduate Fog has suspected for a long time – that while those interns who are exploited by their employers are the ones most talked about in the media, they are in fact in the minority. The vast majority of their friends are being quietly excluded from these opportunities (and the careers they can help lead on to) on a massive scale, simply because they can’t afford to work for free for months on end. It’s hardly surprising, now the London School of Economics has confirmed that the average living cost in London is £1,000 a month.

And there is further cause for concern – as the findings appear to suggest that young people underestimate the value of their work as interns. Across all age groups, 71% of people say employees should always pay interns at least the minimum wage for the work they do – but among 18-34s (those most likely to be affected by unpaid internships) only 67% agree with that statement. Almost half (24%) say employers should continue to offer internships, even if unpaid, and and 9% saying they didn’t know. What’s going on? Are young people beginning to accept as fact the subliminal message from employers who use unpaid interns: that the reason that they won’t their young staff is because their work is worthless?

The survey also found that among 18- to 34-year-olds:

Low wages are a serious problem
Eight in 10 say the minimum wage is not sufficient to meet living costs in Britain today. Almost six in 10 (59%) say their wages are falling, frozen, or have increased by less than the rise in the cost of living.

Few have a good relationship with their employer
Over half (54%) say their employer holds all or most of the power in their relationship (rating the relationship 0, 1, 2 or 3 – 0 being “Employer has all the power”, 10 being “Employee holds all the power”). Almost six in 10 (59%) say their current job is “Just a way to pay the bills until I can find something else to do” (as opposed to “My current job is one step in part of a longer career I am pursuing”). Over half (56%) said they would like to see more training in their job – and over half (55%) are currently considering changing jobs or going to a different employer. More than a third (39%) said they would be “Very unhappy” or “fairly unhappy” if they were still doing their current job in five years’ time.

Finding some work is easy – but finding enough work is hard
Three quarters of those who are only in part-time paid employment say they would prefer to be working full-time. Over half (33%) say they are “very unsatisfied” or “fairly unsatisfied” that the government is doing enough to encourage employer to create well-paid jobs in their region.

There is a big appetite for increasing the national minimum wage
Six in 10 say the government should increase the minimum wage to ensure everyone earns enough to meet reasonable living costs, even if this results in job losses. (Only three in 10 say it should stay as it is, to avoid job losses). Nearly half (48%) say they would be much more likely to buy goods or services from a company that pays its workforce a living wage (as opposed to the minimum wage), assuming they were no more expensive.

There is a sense they were unprepared for joining the world of work
Close to half (45%) say the subjects they took at school prepared them “very badly” or “fairly badly” for work – and over a third (35%) say they received no careers advice at school. Over three quarters (77%) are unaware of the government’s Pay and Work Rights Helpline, the official way to complain about poor working conditions, or jobs and internships paying less than the minimum wage.

Graduate Fog finds these results fascinating – and troubling. To us, they suggest that a growing proportion of bright, young Britain is seriously struggling to get their careers started – and get their finances sorted. In the meantime, there is a serious breakdown in trust with government and employers alike. If that is the case, what will it take to persuade politicians and businesses to start investing – really investing – in this new generation of frustrated young workers?


How would you have answered the questions they asked? Do any of the results surprise you? How would you describe your relationship with your employer, or your feelings towards employers in general?

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