Shine A Light

Young, gifted, exploited - and interned

Young people – already facing the tripling of tuition fees – are increasingly expected to take on unpaid internships before getting a decent job. An investigation published by Quaker Magazine The Friend reveals a sharp rise in advertisements for interns on no or minimum pay.

David Hencke
11 February 2011

Young people – already facing the tripling of tuition fees – are increasingly expected to work for just local travel expenses and a cheap lunch before they can even think of getting a decent job on leaving university.

An investigation for the Fox Report published by the Quaker magazine, The Friend, today reveals a sharp rise in advertisements on the w4mp website for expenses-only interns by MPs, political parties, charities, lobbyists and news organisations as spending cuts hit everybody.

Museums and art galleries — already relying on volunteers — are now turning to interns to staff press offices, produce magazines, work on conservation projects, offering only to pay fares and allow £5 for lunch.

All this comes at a time when youth unemployment has shot up to 951,000 and graduate unemployment is at a 17 year high, leaving people desperate to get a job at almost any price.

By far the worst offenders in Westminster are the Liberal Democrats – the party that broke its pledge to abolish student tuition fees. More than a dozen MPs advertising for interns recently include Simon Hughes, ministers Nick Harvey, Norman Baker and Lynne Featherstone, Greg Mulholland, Martin Horwood, Mike Crockett, Stephen Lloyd, Stephen Williams, Jo Swinson, Lorely Burt and Gordon Birtwhistle, parliamentary private secretary to the chief secretary of the Treasury.

Don Foster has been attacked by InternAware, the campaigning group for interns, for offering a six month long internship to help deal with his casework. Annette Brooke is the only Liberal Democrat MP advertising for a post offering a minimum wage.

The party has now compounded its exploitation of the young by seeking to employ interns to help it fight the Welsh assembly elections and local elections in Herefordshire – a job that normally relies on volunteer party activists. The internship ensures the person will have to work long hours: the advert for the Herefordshire job requires: “an understanding that hours are likely to include weekends and evenings, especially in the run up to the local elections in May”.

Some 8 Tories and 5 Labour MPs including Ben Gummer and Keith Vaz are also seeking free labour.

As surprising is a big surge of adverts for interns to work for charities. Results — an anti poverty campaigning organisation — is recruiting four. Others include Crisis, the campaign for single homeless, National Benefit Fund for the Aged and Tolerance International (full time for six months). One voluntary organization, European Alternatives, is advertising for an intern to work 3-4 days a week for 4 months from 10am to 5.30pm filling in tax returns, book keeping and helping with tax ledger reports. Others include openDemocracy, the Fabians, and Yes to Fairer Votes campaign, which is recruiting nine.

Three organizations, Left Foot Forward, the Institution for Public Policy Research and Policy Exchange offer interns either the London living wage or minimum wage.

This is devastating news for the young, especially those without rich parents, an account with the Bank of Mum and Dad or even better, a real banker for a father. Burdened by growing debt just to get a degree they will now be expected to work for nothing when they graduate.

Already finding it difficult to get anywhere in professions dominated by the public schools and nepotism, the bright young working class and even middle class kid will be doomed to a second class future unable to develop their skills.

What an ugly, nasty, impoverished society those comfortable, complacent people at the top are bequeathing to a new generation.

David Hencke is a freelance investigative journalist and former Westminster correspondent of The Guardian. His site is

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