UPDATE, 13 August 2018: After the Department for Education failed to respond to our challenge to reply by Friday 10 August, we have announced we will be tweeting them every day until they do.

Today, this website has publicly criticised the Department for Education’s ‘glacial’ response to discussing the issue of unpaid internships, which is ‘urgent’ for hundreds of thousands of young people graduating from UK universities this summer. Unwilling to ask the UK’s young people to wait any longer, we have given the department a one-week deadline to invite us in to discuss our solutions for fixing the problem.

Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald says this week marks two YEARS of trying to meet with the department to present fair internships campaigners’ list of solutions to fix the problem. We’ve started this count-up clock to see how much longer it takes them to take this issue seriously:

De Grunwald – one of the UK’s best known experts on the issue – says she first contacted the Department for Education (DfE) on 27 July 2016, after reaching what she felt was ‘the end of the road’ with the Department for Business.

Rebuffed twice by then-Education Secretary Justine Greening’s team, she tried again in February 2018, when Damian Hinds took on the role.

In March, de Grunwald received word that Hinds’ team would be in touch “shortly” to arrange a discussion around her work. In May – having heard nothing – de Grunwald requested an update, and on 13 June received an email saying a member of the team would be in touch “this week” to arrange a discussion. Six weeks later, de Grunwald says she has heard nothing further. Today, she said:

“Last week marked two years of trying to speak to someone at the Department for Education about a problem which will impact hundreds of thousands of young people graduating this summer, having already affected millions in the previous years it has been ignored.

“While Mr Hinds’ staff shuffle their papers and sharpen their pencils, hundreds of thousands of young people’s career ambitions are being thwarted simply because they are unable to work for free in order to boost their CV.

“The vast majority of those called ‘interns’ in fact qualify as ‘workers’ under the minimum wage law, which means they must be paid at least the national minimum wage. All we are asking is for the law to be enforced. This would not only be good for those currently working unpaid – it would also open up those roles to all the young people who can’t afford to work for free. We cannot improve social mobility, diversity and fair access to good jobs until this toxic practice is stamped out.”

De Grunwald’s email to Hinds in February 2018 includes a heartfelt plea for this department to take charge on this issue, “As it will only be solved by a department with a true and deep interest in improving opportunity for young people from all backgrounds. And that is yours.” Today, she added:

“Although campaigners succeeded in creating a stink around unpaid internships – with most big firms now saying they do not run them – there are still too many happening in the UK right now. For example, large pockets remain in politics, media and fashion.

“Historically, the Department for Education has held its nose and refused to get involved, insisting the problem is beyond their remit as unpaid internships tend to happen after university. Although that’s true, this department does have a stake in fixing this, because all the work they are currently doing to help children from poorer backgrounds through school and into university will be for nothing if we don’t dismantle this final hurdle of unpaid internships. Also, more and more students are now doing unpaid internships – sometimes facilitated and encouraged by their universities – so this problem is very much at the Department’s door, whether they like it or not.

“We have a detailed action plan about what needs to be done to fix this problem – so it is frustrating that nobody in Mr Hinds’ department can find time in their diary to have a meeting and kick off the work that needs to be done.

“Young people have waited long enough to see action on what is a burning issue for them. They should have not to wait another minute.

“Given all these delays, we are today warning the Department for Education that we expect to hear from them within the next week – that’s by the end of Friday 10 August – to arrange a meeting with us, without fail.”

De Grunwald recently set up the Graduate Fog Employers Club, a new coalition of big UK employers committed to fair pay, good training and fair access to jobs for young people. Members – who must promise that they do not run unpaid internships – include Royal Mail, Cancer Research UK and J. Walter Thompson. Stella Creasy MP spoke at the Club’s summer event

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