New report reveals unpaid internships remain rife

For young people, eager to get their foot in the door to a successful career, unpaid internships may seem like the only way they can access their dream job. A new report from the Sutton Trust, ‘Pay as you go’, provides a detailed look at internship pay, quality and access to the graduate job market for the first time.

The report found that, although the number of unpaid internships has fallen in recent years, a high number of internships are still unpaid. Out of the employers offering internships, 48% offered unpaid internships or internships paying below minimum wage, 27% offered expenses only internships and 12% offer no pay or expenses.

As a social mobility foundation, the Sutton Trust argues that unpaid internships inhibit social mobility, and afford advantages limited to those from better off backgrounds. The report reveals that 26% of interns had to rely on money from their parents. While 27% had to work a second job in order to make it through the unpaid internship. Unpaid internships are found to be especially common in the media, journalism and fashion industries (all competitive industries with no shortage of applicants for roles). The Trust contends that those from lower income backgrounds are facing significant barriers to entry into these industries as a result.

The Sutton Trust is likely to be hopeful therefore that the Unpaid Work Experience (Prohibition) Bill successfully passes through its second reading in Parliament on 25 January 2019. This bill seeks to prohibit entirely unpaid internships which last over four weeks. It would also introduce a mandatory requirement, to pay interns at least the national minimum wage or national living wage (for over 25s) once an internship exceeds four weeks. It may be some time until the bill becomes law, but if passed it will mean employers will have to be more vigilant about the internships and work experience schemes they offer.

If you would like to discuss your use of internships (paid or unpaid), please contact a member of the team.

Tom Fancett

About Tom Fancett

Tom has experience acting for both employers and employees, advising on the full spectrum of contentious and non-contentious matters. His experience includes advising on large commercial transactions, including redundancy and TUPE issues; undertaking buy side and sell side due diligence exercises into the employment aspects for multiple commercial transactions; coordinating multijurisdictional projects; defending Employment Tribunal claims in relation to unfair dismissal, disability and sex discrimination and whistleblowing; advising on day-to-day HR and disciplinary issues; drafting and negotiating settlement and service agreements; and reviewing company handbooks and template employment contracts.

Full bio