Who can afford to be an intern?

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Working an internship in London costs interns, on average, nearly £1000 a month. According to education charity, The Sutton Trust analysis of government data, 31% of all interns, or around 22,000 people, are unpaid. Unpaid internships can cost an individual £804 a month in Manchester and £926 a month in London.

Over a six month period, this comes to £5,556 in London and £4,827 in Manchester, assuming a shared property and taking into account household bills, council tax, food as well as miscellaneous spending such as internet, clothing and cleaning products. This excludes transport costs as they are often paid for by the employer.

“We don’t agree with long-term unpaid internships as a general rule” says Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, “they aren’t good for social mobility as they exclude people who can’t afford to work unpaid. Talented graduates expect to be paid for their work.”

Internships can put young people in an awkward Catch-22 position that forces them to take up this unpaid work. They can’t find a job in their desired field because they don’t have the experience and they can’t get the experience without actually getting a job.

In many ways this dilemma mirrors the Union led job protection seen in the pre-Thatcher era. Union membership was required for jobs in certain fields, but the union wouldn’t accept anyone who had not worked for in that field.

The cost of being an intern will, it seems, inevitably favour the more privileged who have families able to afford to finance them through internships. Many analysts are worried about how this may limit diversity in these fields and could narrow cultural understanding.

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