Posts Tagged 'Westminster'

Young, rich and working for free…


The following isn’t a direct account of my own experience, it’s that of a friend’s. I keep reading about “people with affluent parents” or “people who can afford unpaid internships”, but here is an example of that in practice.

I myself have done a handful of short unpaid internships, but luckily they were only a few hours a week so I managed to stay on the dole/in a job at the same time, and the organisations really needed the help - they weren’t for profit and did a lot for the local community. I would recommend the odd 2 week internship to those who can manage it, but the fact that I am in a good job right now is partly down to my adamant decision to never consider long term unpaid internships, whether or not I could somehow save up the money to do it. I’ve been extremely fortunate, but I was determined to hold out for a decent paid job.

My account is a clear example of how the unpaid internship culture of this country is working. An acquaintance of mine - who I met through a paid internship - has long complained to me of her boyfriend’s laziness and unwillingness to find a calling in life. When we interned together, she would tell me about how he barely scraped through his degree, as he was uninterested in the subject, and was being propped up in a house that had been bought for him by his wealthy parents. After graduating, and not necessarily wanting to enter the world of work yet, he went straight into a History Masters (presumably paid for by said wealthy parents). She told me about how he nearly failed a lot of his modules and had to resit, taking 2 years to complete the degree. At this point I didn’t want to make any judgements, some of my most intelligent and hard working friends and relatives had been through similar issues at university, however, I didn’t exactly expect the following to happen to this guy.

My friend often talked to me about how she debated whether or not to even stay with her boyfriend on the basis of him not wanting to get a job, or have any interest in a career at all. Fast forward a few months, and his ‘contacts’ have found him an unpaid internship with his local MP (his first job ever). It turns out that the job is going to be based at Westminster, and it’s unpaid. Here’s the point where most people would start looking for something else, because living and working in London for 4 months unpaid is well out of most peoples’ reach, regardless of how great an opportunity it might be. Fortunately this young man has wealthy loving parents to support him. This doesn’t seem too shocking, except for the fact that my friend keeps bragging about his £600 per week flat by the river. In Westminster. Almost every other day they update their Facebook profiles with pictures of them enjoying meals out and drinks after work. Those are the kind of treats that unpaid interns should be able to reward themselves with, right?

I don’t imagine that this has been anything but the norm for years, but it’s sad that someone who really didn’t have to work hard, or show any interest in politics at all, is on the fast track into Parliament, when I also know of really hard working individuals with years of experience, still struggling at the very bottom of the politics ladder.

Something’s wrong here, isn’t it?


How paid staff view interns

Currently I am reading Ross Perlin’s book while coming to the end of two 3-month part-time internships, one with a tiny NGO and the other with an MP, and trying to figure out where I go from here.

I have come to the conclusion that doing more unpaid internships after this is not a good idea because it won’t look good on my CV: people will assume that I am from a privileged background and that daddy and mummy are providing for me so I can work for free, whereas the reality is that I studied hard as an undergraduate, secured generous funding to do a PhD and, post-PhD, have some of that funding saved up to enable me to explore different career options in an economic climate where every paid job I apply to has several hundred other applicants.

With regard to the assumptions people make about interns, my experience in the MP’s office is particularly amusing. On the one hand the office relies on a steady stream of interns doing identical work to paid employees. On the other hand, I have heard the paid employees making remarks that display resentment towards “rich kids who can afford to do unpaid internships.” These remarks were not directed at me, but were directed at a particular well-known journalist who is perceived to have got to her current position after 2 years of unpaid internships. Nevertheless it struck me as particularly foolish, clumsy or rude that these remarks were made in front of me when I have contributed so much to the work of the office, and when the work of the office relies on the contributions of at least one unpaid intern at all times.

On the whole, I have found both internships incredibly useful, giving me experience, knowledge and access that would otherwise be extremely hard to come by. On the whole, the paid staff I have been working with have been extremely patient, kind and generous with their time. They have gone out of their way to make sure that much of the work I am doing is related to the particular interests I specified at the outset, and they have also gone out of their way to help me with job applications, making recommendations for where and how to look for jobs, and where and how to apply. In both internships I have been either put in touch with contacts of paid employees who might be able to help me with specific jobs, or paid employees have put in a good word for me with someone they know in the office where I am applying for a paid position.

I believe that the main problem with internships is that in my experience what is happening is that an unpaid individual with no rights is doing identical work to a paid employee with full rights. Yes, an internship presents an opportunity for an individual to get a foot in the door. The danger is that in the current economic climate an internship may become the only way to get a foot in the door - and, as a result, become the norm. If the MP’s office stopped taking on interns they would simply have to reduce their workload or apply for an increase to the office budget to pay for more staff.

Ultimately this is what I believe they should do, but currently there is no incentive for them to do so. The state could provide that incentive. I believe that tighter regulation of internships is needed to ensure that unpaid interns are not doing identical work to paid employees, and that interns who are doing identical work to paid employees are paid the national minimum wage.

SURVEY UPDATE: 86 Parliamentary Interns have taken part so far!

The Jury is still out- some people have obviously had great experiences but some have developed a long lasting aversion to the political world…is it just about personality? Or do some MPs take the humiliation just that bit too far? We have included all previously collected results along with 23 extra responses.


-          55% of unpaid interns in Westminster are graduate job seekers

-          25% carry out tasks they are not comfortable with (but this can be a positive thing)

-          Only 36% had all their expenses covered.

-          60% developed new skills (but many regretted the money they had spent on this)

-          And the most positive thing- 84% believe the internship boosted their job prospects…although some ended up feeling put off:  

‘It’s hard to tell. Certainly, if I carried on within politics it might do. But having paid a couple of hundred pounds a month to go in to work and eat I am now cold towards politics as a career.’

Full results below.

Continue reading ‘SURVEY UPDATE: 86 Parliamentary Interns have taken part so far!’

Lib Dem PPC Pays Minimum Wage to Intern after being challenged on NMW Laws

A small victory for those who think MPs Interns should receive minimum wage. Reported in a Cornwall regional paper this morning: the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Truro and Falmouth has been forced to withdraw a job advertisement for a full-time intern because it flouted government regulations on work and pay.

The advert she submitted is very similar to many others MPs use. It’s an interesting precedent. And for those that say young people will be missing out on opportunities by limiting the number of internships – the position is not disappearing – but will now be paid.

The concept of “volunteering” is so problematic, because young people are aware that they must do work like this to build a career. Interns cannot work any hours they choose, or refuse task, or they risk a good reference. Never mind the exclusion of those who can not afford to work for free.

Continue reading ‘Lib Dem PPC Pays Minimum Wage to Intern after being challenged on NMW Laws’

Interns Anonymous

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