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Sussex student campaigns against unpaid internships

Rachel Fordham, wants unpaid internships to stop. Photo: Rachel Fordham

A student at the University of Sussex has launched a campaign against unpaid internships.

Following a series of unpaid internships in London, Rachel Fordham, 20, set up a Facebook group called ‘If We Have A Minimum Wage, Why Are Interns NOT Being Paid?’ that is part of a growing awareness of the huge numbers of young people who feel compelled to work for free as interns, often for several months at a time.

Rachel explained: “The issue affects people throughout Britain. Any young person looking for expeience in an occupational field they think they might be interested in will run into the difficult obstacle of finding paid internships, especially in London. It appears to be the common thing now not to pay interns.”

She is currently a second year undergraduate studying politics at the university.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimated that last summer there were a quarter of a million interns working in Britain, the majority of which were unpaid, while a YouGov poll indicated that 17 percent of British businesses had taken on interns as a cheap source of labour.

While ‘social mobility’ has become a mot du jour in parliament, the practice of encouraging unpaid internships has been criticised as being distinctly at odds with the idea.

Many young people can only enter such internships with the financial support of their families, thereby excluding those would-be interns whose relations are unable to help them.

Highlighting this retrogressive step, Rachel said: “You are either in a position where someone else supports you, or you don’t [get these opportunities].

“You either have parents who are in a position where they can financially support you or you don’t, and of course this just disables social mobility.

“I’ve met some interns who work five days a week then have a two day job at the weekend, which is great, however they all say is this doesn’t always cover their costs and of course, that’s a long week!”

Rachel also questioned David Miliband about the issue of unpaid internships in the question and answer session that followed his conversation with Tim Bale, Professor of Politics.

The issue has gathered considerable weight recently after it emerged that David Cameron and Nick Clegg clashed after Cameron gave an internship at his constituency office to a neighbour.

Cameron said: “In the modern world, of course you’re always going to have internships and interns – people who come and help in your office who come through all sorts of contacts, friendly, political, whatever.

“I do that and I’ll go on doing that. I feel very relaxed about it.”

The Prime Minister was criticised by Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham, who said: “This is just another example of the Tory-led Government kicking away the ladders of opportunity from ordinary families.”

The Facebook group is only the beginning of what Rachel hopes will be a serious opposition to those companies using interns as free labour.

“My main focus after the group”, Rachel says, “is gaining enough weight and support behind the issue so that a petition can be started and lobbying can commence, I really want to be able to change what’s going on, it would benefit so many people and be such a fantastic breakthrough in society.”

Rachel added: “The group will announce other events that pressure groups have instigated, such as the huge event happening on 8 June with the National Union of Students (NUS) and Intern Aware who have organised a publicity stunt outside the House of Commons, so get involved if you agree with the cause.”

To explore this further, visit the Facebook group ‘If We Have A Minimum Wage, Why Are Interns NOT Being Paid?’

Or email: Winterns@groups.facebook.com.

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