Archive for July, 2009

A Loan for all seasons

Chapter 7 of the Milburn report on social mobility is in many ways right on the money. It is a surprisingly non-jargon filled report on internships. It tells us why internships exist, what purpose they serve, describes their flaws and suggests ways in which the system can improve. It tells us about problems, particularly issues of social exclusion, and it provides some practical solutions to these problems.

There is some good stuff about opening internships up to people who didn’t know they existed, couldn’t afford to do one, or didn’t know the right people in the right places.

I like the idea of giving internship schemes marks out of ten or ‘kitemarks’ and I like the idea of Universities providing interns with accommodation to stay in London. But…there was always going to be a but…there is an unhealthy emphasis on loans.

Why is it always loans these days? Lest we forget: we are in diabolical debt. Legendary debtors from Dickens’ novels would never have dreamt of the debt that the UK currently finds itself in. 


Classic debtor Mr Micawber could never imagine how much debt we're in

Classic debtor Mr Micawber could never imagine how much debt we're in

It’s not just the state- most graduates will have taken out a student loan to complete their studies and will have £10,000 or more to pay back when they finish. I know this from personal experience.

Milburn et al seem to confuse a ‘loan’ with ‘sweets’ or ‘fluffy bunnies’ because it seems like there is no connection between a loan and MONEY. A graduate taking out another loan to do an internship will be taking a risk.

The prospective intern will be thinking about how they will pay it off- and whether they will get a job out of it. OK, it’s supposedly only a ‘micro-loan’ to cover a month of living in (most probably) London but it’s still going to add up to around £500-£1000. 

Graduates from affluent families will still have more incentive to intern than those without the money. Loans are money and do not level the playing field. I know it would represent an investment and hopefully the intern would get a job after taking out a loan but this happy outcome is by no means guaranteed.

The report provides alternatives to loans but it still devotes 6 of its ‘recommendations’ to the promotion of loans for individuals (take a look at recommendations 56, 57, 59, 61, 62 and 63 on pages 111-112 of the report). 

I really don’t think that loans, however small their interest payments, should be promoted or mistaken as a solution. We need to be creative about this. Hit me with your ideas- aside from paying interns a wage (the obvious and in my view correct solution) what do you think could be done to make internships more accessible?

Statement from Phil Willis MP on the publication of Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility:

As we have highlighted on this site before, Phil Willis MP is leading a campaign within Westminster to change the current internship system. He wants fair access and quality internships for all 450 or so interns working in Parliament. He has issued a statement in response to Alan Milburn’s report.

Phil Willis has reacted to the Milburn Report

Phil Willis has reacted to the Milburn Report

“I am extremely pleased that Alan Milburn and his panel have recognised the vital role, to both young people and businesses, of interns and internship opportunities.

“This report is a further step along the road towards ensuring that the internship is fully recognised as a vital learning experience. It is also a significant step towards ensuring that access to internships is open to all, regardless of financial background, and I sincerely hope that the recommendations addressing financial support and accommodation for interns will be seriously considered.

“I fully endorse the recommendation that a best practice code for internships be developed, and commend the work of the Parliamentary branch of Unite for recently launching an ‘Interns Agreement’ to establish a common standard of internships in MPs offices. I would encourage all of my parliamentary colleagues to sign up to this agreement in their own offices.”

Milburn Summary

Its absolutely fantastic that after banging on about this issue for months and months, I can turn on Radio 4 and hear a proper discussion taking place about internships in the modern work-place.

A PDF of Alan Milburn’s report is found below:

Milburn Report- Fair Access to the Professions

Milburn Report- Summary and Recommendations

Chapter 7 is entirely dedicated to internships.  Essentially the report tells us what we already know. The geographical and cost barriers to undertaking internships are mentioned, as is the variable quality of many internships themselves.

He concludes:

“Internships are accessible only to some when they should be open to all who have aptitude. Currently employers are missing out on talented people – and talented people are missing opportunities to progress. There are negative consequences for social mobility and for fair access to the professions. A radical change is needed. We propose ways of making internships more accessible, more transparent and more widely available to many more people. We do so in a way that is fair to employers as well as to interns. We welcome the good work that some professions are doing already and want to support others to follow – making the prospect of an internship a possibility for all.”

Follows, is a summary of the reports recommendations on internships:

Continue reading ‘Milburn Summary’

Number 10 Petition, UPDATE

As Milburn’s report has a whole chapter discussing how the current system of internships contributes to social inequality, its well worth reminding our readers of a Number 10 petition calling for them to end. 

Unpaid internships and work experience placements for school and university leavers ensure that only young people whose parents can afford to fund them get a foothold on certain career paths. These leads to a lack of meritocracy, poor social mix and cohesion and denies talented but poorer young people opportunities. Paid internships should be advertised on a central clearing website and should be allocated on merit not connections.

Alan Milburn: Fair Access to the Professions REPORT OUT NOW

An exciting day today as Alan Milburn has released his Fair Access to the Professions report. Have spent the morning reading it, and his chapter on Internships is concise, progressive and interesting. I will get a copy of it up on the site ASAP, along with many of the interesting facts and figures that he sources. 

NUJ guidelines for those looking to do journalism work experience

The National Union of Journalists has produced some guidelines for those looking to do work experience. They warn of exploitation.

It’s no exaggeration that certain national newspapers would collapse without unpaid work. As hundreds of journalists are made redundant each year, their positions are being filled by rolling unpaid work experience placements. The Independent is the one we always hear about. Two weeks work experience on the news desk seems ubiquitous on any graduates CV.

The NUJ’s own survey into those who had become a journalist in the last five years is damning:

- More than 50 per cent completed work experience placements after achieving their qualification, with the majority receiving little if any payment

- One-in-five who did post-qualification work experience undertook a placement for three months or more, with some working for more than six months unpaid

- Of those people who had material published or broadcast, 78 per cent received no payment for their work

- One-in-four claimed to have completed a placement at an organisation that wouldn’t be able to function normally without people on work experience

- More than half felt that they didn’t get enough support or guidance during their placements

The union believes that the internship culture has huge implications for diversity in the media, barring the profession to those who can’t afford to work for free.

NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: “This isn’t work experience, it’s exploitation. We’re all in favour of students getting a feel for life in a newsroom, but in many cases companies are just looking for free labour.

The guidelines are found at the below link. 


The Credit Crunch Generation

An aspiring journalist called Kate Proctor has written a response to the Johan Hari article on work experience we featured on our site many a month ago. I will copy some of it here, but her experience of frustration at a closed industry is well worth reading in full.

This week my friend was offered a media internship with the charity Unicef. They want her to do 6 months unpaid work, Monday to Friday 9-5 in London. 

She knows she can’t turn it down, but how exactly is she going to live? What sort of super human can manage to work another paid job in the evenings just to have the pleasure of being exploited in the day. 

And there’s another entirely unexplored angle to this. People from the North have it even harder. You might get a hallowed work experience placement in London, but where on earth are you going to stay. Not everyone has family or friends in the big smoke to put you up.

We certainly are the credit crunch generation and the outlook is bleak. 

What companies are asking graduates to do borders on illegal and there’s no guarantee of paid work at the end of the day.

When I did work experience at the Independent for 2 weeks (after ringing them every day for a year, and sleeping on the floor of a stranger on Warwick Avenue) I walked in after lunch one day to find a particularly memorable conversation in full swing. The topic was which private school everyone went to. Out of a team of 8 journalists and editors in the office that day, two went to Marlborough, one went to Bedales, one to Rugby. Admittedly, not all of them went to private school but it certainly was a top notch way to alienate the work experience monkey. I may be brilliant at writing, but I will always be poor, have zero ‘connections’ and have gone to state school. I’m sure with those sorts of credentials the door to journalism will be laid wide open for me.


Graduate unemployment soaring like an eagle


Look at this eagle. See how it soars. Now imagine that the eagle is unemployment.

Look at this eagle. See how it soars. Now imagine that the eagle is unemployment.

“Tory Interns walk around as if they owned the place!”

From a Guardian article on Alan Milburn’s impending Fair Access to the Professions report:

“Barry Sheerman, chair of the education select committee, makes a point of taking on working-class interns for his Commons office, but admits: “We have to teach them that they don’t have to be apologetic about being in a big office: we have to get their shoulders back, get them answering the phone in an authoritative way. Yet you get these troops of old Harrovians [as Tory interns] walking around as if they owned the world.”

Class prejudice? Chips on shoulders? Or a fair representation?

Its an important question to ask because if its just the middle classes who can pay their kids through parliamentary internships then in 30 years time the only people working in politics will be toffs and the middle classes.

But by only taking on working-class interns for his Commons office is Barry Sheerman being equally discriminatory? Shouldn’t the best people get the job?

And how do you tell if someone is working class anyway? If I applied for a job and put on my broadest broad Yorkshire accent would I be a shoe in? Even though my Dads a middle class professional? Should I advertise on my CV for Mr Sheerman that my gran was a cleaner and granddad a farm worker?

What about fair access and a fair chance for all. A system that merits ability and offers support for those that need it. 

Barry Sheerman: Class Warrior? Idiot?

Barry Sheerman: Class Warrior? Idiot?


Federation of Small Businesses tells Govt to create 5000 interns to help graduate unemployment

The Government has been urged to create 5,000 new internship placements in small businesses to tackle “soaring” graduate unemployment.

The Federation of Small Businesses said £3 million should be allocated to market and develop thousands of internships and jobs this year.

The move would save the Government £600 for each graduate on such a scheme as they would not be claiming any unemployment benefit, said the federation.

Chairman John Wright said: “Graduate unemployment is set to soar to unprecedented levels this year as businesses struggle to make ends meet and cut back on recruiting university leavers.

“In a graduate internship scheme, graduates can offer key skills to help businesses move forward while at the same time ensuring they are learning new skills and not unemployed at a crucial time in their careers.”

As  a graduate looking for work myself, the last thing I want is another bloody internship. Give me a proper job with proper pay and a proper future! 

From the Press Association. 

Intern in Parliament? Get Involved in some focus groups!

Are you currently interning in parliament?

Or would like to intern, but can’t due to money, time or lack of opportunities?

We want to hear from you!

Phil Willis MP and the Parliamentary branch of Unite are jointly launching a campaign on the issue of internships in parliament.

We want to know what the real obstacles are to securing an internship in parliament, and when you’re here, what can we be doing better.

We will be hosting a number of small ‘focus group’ style events over the summer to gather opinion in the run-up to a larger summit in October. We need your input!

If you can spare an hour to chat to a group of other interns/prospective interns about the issues in this area, please email Helen Undy at There will be a few sessions in evenings and lunchtimes over the summer, with representatives from Unite, Phil Willis’ office, and other interested organisations. Tea and biscuits will be provided!


Dear Low Pay Commission

One of our readers has had a response on the issue of internships and the National Minimum Wage from the Low Pay Commission.  The LPC acknowledge that there are issues with internships and national minimum wage violations – and think that these issues can best be addressed through better guidance and enforcement of the existing law.

So another case of MPs not following the laws they themselves created? 

The really relevant section comes with her advice to our reader:

“If you believe you are entitled to the minimum wage you should contact HM Revenue and Customs and they can investigate further. They operate a confidential helpline Monday to Friday 9-5pm on 0845 6000 678. The Government recently introduced a system of ‘fair arrears and penalties’ as part of the Employment Act. This means that arrears should be repaid at the current minimum wage rate when this is higher than the rate that was in force at the time of underpayment. HMRC can also issue penalty notices on employers who do not pay at least the minimum wage.”

The rest of the email is posted below.

Continue reading ‘Dear Low Pay Commission’

« Previous PageNext Page »

Interns Anonymous

We want this website to be a forum for interns to share their experiences and discuss the ethics of unpaid employment. Most importantly, we want this site to be a place where YOU can tell us your story.


Interns Anonymous accept no responsibility for the contents of the blog, comments or any other content on this site that is posted or provided by third parties. This website is designed to act as a forum for interns to share experiences and opinions about their work, therefore, we will not censor opinions we do not agree with. The opinions stated in blog contributions do not represent those of Interns Anonymous. We disclaim all liability for such content to the fullest extent permitted by law. If you have any queries please email us.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 67 other followers


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers

Powered by