‘Internships are unfair’

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
April 14, 2011, 12:37 AM GMT+0

Over half of the British public believe that internships, a period of time or temporary contract during which young people spend working for a company to gain work experience, give an unfair advantage to those whose parents have the money and contacts to allow them to take unpaid work. The results come as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week denounced free internships as giving richer young people an unfair professional advantage over their less well-off peers.

  • 60% feel that such internships give young people an unfair advantage over those with less influential or well-off parents
  • 20% disagree, and 20% don’t know
  • 53% agreed that internships gave an unfair advantage to young people who can afford them, and felt that the Government should intervene to try to give other young people an equal chance
  • 30%, however, instead thought that if young people are happy to work for free in exchange for experience and contacts, and companies want to take them on, the Government has no business interfering
  • Accordingly, 65% would support intervention from the Government to regulate intern pay and ensure opportunities are widely advertised
  • Compared to 15% who would oppose such Government regulation
  • And while a third (33%) thinks that companies employing interns stand more to gain from the cheap or free help, 44% actually say that interns and companies benefit equally from placements

Internships, especially those in top professions, as highlighted by Nick Clegg who himself benefitted from an internship through parental connections, are often poorly paid, but a majority of Brits thinks that the minimum wage, at least, should be remunerated for intern work.

  • 62% think that interns should be paid the minimum wage
  • 19% say that the payment of basic expenses, like travel, is acceptable
  • 11% wouldn’t stipulate a minimum

An army of unpaid young people

Recently, internships have been mooted by the Deputy Prime Minister as giving certain young people, namely those from well-connected families, an unfair advantage over those who neither have the money to work for free nor live close enough to suitable industry. He also pointed out that certain professions, especially in politics, banking or media, seemingly rely on an army of unpaid young people to keep them going. ‘We want a society in which success is based on what you know, not who you know or which family you are born into,’ he wrote in a Telegraph article, along with work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

As Peter Kellner has also discussed here, our results demonstrate that the British public may agree, largely feeling not only that internships should be more regulated, but also that placements within many key industries may not always be available on merit.

See the survey details and full results