Assembly hears how unpaid internships disadvantage young Londoners

20 March 2014

The London Assembly Economy Committee heard today how two out of five people in the UK offered an internship have had to turn it down for financial reasons [1] allowing peers who can afford to work without pay to gain experience in highly competitive industries.

Internships are becoming an increasingly common part of the transition from education to the workplace [2], but young people are still being exploited by some employers who hire unpaid interns to complete essential business tasks.

Unpaid internships also present a risk to people in permanent paid work. Intern Aware [3] told the Committee how one employer re-categorised positions for an intern to perform tasks that were previously completed by a paid receptionist, replacing a paid employee.

Former and current interns told the Committee that it is extremely difficult to complete an internship in London without being paid. The Committee also heard that some internships did nothing to help them find permanent employment.

Adam Driscoll, former intern in sports science industry said,

“My third internship was so bad it actually turned me off working in the industry.

“After studying a degree in sports science and completing a professional accreditation, my unpaid internships rarely gave me the opportunity to practice my skills in the workplace.”

The Committee was told how there is a strong correlation between unpaid internships and quality of the internship. National Union of Students and Intern Aware agreed that it was mutually beneficial for employers to offer fewer paid internships rather than many unpaid internships. They claimed this would minimise socially excluding people who can’t afford to do an unpaid internship and ensure interns receive quality guidance and experience.

As an employer paying its interns, ASOS, the online fashion retailer [4] told the Committee how their internship programme plays an important role in recruiting talented young people. Paying its interns has ensured ASOS dedicates resources to providing guidance to its interns and has played a part in retaining more than 80 per cent of its interns in recent years.

Stephen Knight, Chair of the Economy Committee said,

“The Committee is concerned about the problem of unpaid internships, particularly in the media, fashion, financial and political sectors.

“Employers who continue to hire unpaid interns may not only be breaking the law but risk damaging their own businesses by limiting the pool of talent to the privileged few who can afford to work without pay.

“There is certainly an opportunity for the Mayor and the Greater London Authority to take a leadership position on internships in London, championing the benefits of good quality, paid internships for young people and businesses alike”.

Notes to editors

  1. Two out of five (39%) of people offered an internship have to turn it down for financial reasons (YouGov 2012).
  2. Intern Aware told the Committee the vast majority of internships are located in London, e.g. 80% of law internships (Milburn report), 61% of PR internships (PRCA/Intern Aware).
  3. Intern Aware campaigns for fair, paid internships within the UK.
  4. ASOS is an online fashion retailer.
  5. The London Assembly Economy Committee spoke to four interns about their experience in completing an internship. The Committee also questioned employers and organisations who promote quality internships. The minutes and webcast from the meeting are available online.
  6. Stephen Knight AM, Chair of the Economy Committee, is available for interview. See contact details below.
  7. As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.

For more details, please contact Alice Andrewartha in the Assembly Media Office on 020 7983 4603. For out-of-hours media enquiries please call 020 7983 4000 and ask for the Assembly duty press officer. Non-media enquiries should be directed to the Public Liaison Unit, Greater London Authority, on 020 7983 4100.