Unpaid internships are a scandal

Hazel Blears, an MP campaigning on the issue, speaks her mind

A full day's work, with no pay - not even to fund a roof over your head. It sounds terrible doesn't it? You might think I'm talking about a situation in a third world country.

But unpaid long-term internships are a modern day scandal in the UK, not only in London, but also in big cities like Manchester. Young people from poorer areas like Salford are unlikely to be able to afford to do an unpaid internship. They're also less likely to have access to contacts through family and friends to secure opportunities like internships and work placements.

My Kids Without Connections scheme, launched last year, enables youngsters without these links to do four weeks of work experience with Salford firms. Last year I launched the first cross-party Speakers' Parliamentary Placement Scheme in conjunction with the Social Mobility Foundation. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are paired with an MP and help with research and administration in their London office for nine months. They are paid a proper wage and also receive support with accommodation costs. Around two-thirds of last year's intake have now secured permanent jobs in parliament or elsewhere, including Kay Nuttall from Salford, who worked in my office. Another nine people are taking part in this year's scheme.

Last month I launched a Ten Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons in an attempt to ban the advertising of long-term unpaid internships and create a more level playing field for young people of all backgrounds. It secured cross-party support and I will keep the pressure up. As MPs we need to lead by example in paying interns, and persuade businesses to follow suit.

I was really disappointed to learn that the Liberal Democrat MP for Withington, John Leech, was advertising for two unpaid interns to work in his constituency office for a minimum of three months. I have written to Mr Leech's party leader, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, to draw this matter to his attention. Interns are entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage, which also means set hours of work and clear responsibilities. We need to make sure we encourage more aspiring young people like Kay to take up proper opportunities, where they get a decent day's pay for a decent day's work.

But while we still have a loophole allowing long-term unpaid internships to be advertised this unethical practice will continue. By outlawing the advertising of these internships, the government can send a clear message that unpaid internships shut down opportunities for more people than they open up; that the practice is counter-productive to social mobility; and that the principle of asking people to live and work for free is not only unlawful, it is plain wrong.

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