Labour pledges four-week limit to unpaid internships

Labour will ban unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks as part of a youth manifesto to be unveiled today by Ed Miliband.

His proposal comes as the prime minister, David Cameron, counters with a commitment to jobs, confirming that he will extend the employment allowance to 2020, meaning a third of jobs will continue to pay no national insurance for another five years. The employment allowance allows smaller businesses to take on new workers by freeing businesses from at least the first £2,000 of employers’ national insurance contributions.

Miliband will say that anyone offered an internship lasting more than a month must be paid the minimum wage. Some of the most sought-after jobs, he will argue, are out of reach for many young people who cannot afford to work for nothing over long internships.

The announcement coincides with new YouGov polling data released by Intern Aware showing that Labour’s four-week legal limit would not lead to a reduction in internships. According to the poll, 62% of businesses say it would make no difference to the number of interns they recruit; 10% say it would make them more likely to hire interns; and 10% say it would make them less likely to hire interns.

Miliband will say: “In this country, if you want a good job in a highly prized sector, you’re often asked to work for free, often for months on end, sometimes even a year. It’s a system that’s rigged in favour of those who can afford it.

“Putting careers in highly prized jobs – in the arts, media, fashion, finance and law – out of reach for huge numbers of highly able young people [is] not fair. It’s not right. And it prevents our companies drawing on all the talents our nation has to offer. So we’ll put a stop to it. We’ll end the scandal of unpaid internship.”

The proposal is in line with a recommendation last year from Alan Milburn, the chair of the government’s social mobility and child poverty commission. Milburn said commission research found that key professions including the law, the media, medicine and fashion had rejected pleas by politicians to reduce the number of entrants working for free.

In its second annual “state of the nation” report, the commission said that unless there is a sudden change of heart by professional bodies and employers, the new government elected in May should bring in legislation to ban unpaid internships.

Milburn argued: “Some people can afford to work for free, but many cannot. The current system is blocking out individuals with high potential but modest financial means from getting on professional career ladder. If the professions are going to be truly representative of the society they serve, then they will have to do more to actively diversify their workforces.”

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Ben Lyons,co-founder of Intern Aware, welcomed the pledge, saying it would make a difference to thousands of young people entering the job market. “The current chasm between twentysomethings who can afford to work for months on end for free and those who can’t is bad for social mobility, bad for business and bad for Britain,” he said.

“Businesses are crying out for clarity on internships, and the four-week limit offers that – as well as vastly increasing the pool of talent they can draw on. We hope this pledge is the start of a change in the political weather around getting young people into work.”

The other measures in the Labour Youth Manifesto are more familiar, including cutting tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000, increasing student maintenance grants by £400, and raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour.

Powered by article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for The Guardian on Friday 17th April 2015 00.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010