Unpaid internships are essential, expensive and exclusive. Internships have become a pre-requisite for graduates looking to access the professions. Alan Milburn reported in March 2012 that over 30% of newly hired graduates had previously interned for their employer, rising to 50% in some sectors. The Wilson Review of Business-University collaboration found that “lack of work experience appears as a key barrier to young people, including graduates, in securing employment”.
The impact of unpaid internships on social mobility and regional equality is extremely significant. Working for free doesn’t come cheap. Internships are overwhelmingly based in London, where the cost of living is amongst the highest in the UK. The London School of Economics estimates that a month living in London will typically cost a young person £1,000. Internships vary in length, but almost all last three months or longer. According to these figures a three-month unpaid internship could cost an intern over £3000. That’s money that most young people simply don’t have. In a poll conducted by Survation for Unions 21, 84% of people over 35 said that a young person in their family could not afford to do an unpaid internship in London.