The Creative Society is an arts employment charity that helps young people into jobs in the creative and cultural industries.
Last week Culture Secretary Minister Jeremy Hunt advertised for a number of unpaid internships to work in his constituency office, prompting a renewed focus on the role of interns in parliament.
There are many merits to the basic idea of an internship and some are of huge value to the individual concerned. However it’s the cumulative effect of offering unpaid internships which is truly worrying: they create a barrier to entry for white-collar jobs that is hard for young people from lower-income backgrounds to overcome.
Unpaid internships have become the principal entry point for young people seeking work in sectors such as the media, the creative industries, and parliament. Unite: the Union calculates that 450 interns carry out around 18,000 hours of unpaid work in parliament each week and that many do not even receive travel and food expenses.
Young people are told throughout their school lives and at university that work reaps rewards. Yet as they enter the job market they are confronted with unpaid internships which systematically enforce a bias towards the recruitment of people from higher income backgrounds.
New Deal of the Mind’s evaluation – out on Monday 7 November – of our jobs programme shows that 90 per cent of participants that took part in six month paid work placements would not have been able to take up the offer if it were unpaid. This figure is damning: these young people would have been forced to turn down work opportunities with some of the most prestigious arts organisations in the UK, for the simple reason that they cannot afford to work for nothing.
There are alternatives for MPs who want to take on young people. The Speaker’s Parliamentary Placements scheme, set up by Hazel Blears, offers paid internships to a dozen young people from lower-income backgrounds. This is a breath of fresh air. And if Hazel Blears can raise the money for this scheme, MPs in parliament should either make full use of it, or raise funds themselves.
New Deal of the Mind is keen to take this idea further. We are also working with MPs and groups in parliament to set up a Parliamentary Academy, offering paid apprenticeships in parliament to young people. Apprenticeships featured heavily at the Conservative party conference this year where Cameron called on businesses to hire more apprentices. We are pleased to say the Conservative Policy Forum (part of CCHQ) is leading by example – opting to pay their apprentice the London Living Wage.
This is an example that MPs of all parties should follow. We look forward to speaking to them.
MPs, who spend much of their working life thinking about the social impact of policies, should really know better. There is an alternative.