UK

Internships: 'Experience doesn't pay the rent'

A young woman doing chores during her intersnhip Image copyright Getty Images

New research suggests there is support for a ban on unpaid work experience that lasts more than four weeks.

For many graduates, undergoing an internship is a useful way to gain work experience to increase the chance of becoming employed.

However, some critics say unpaid internships are only available to young people who can either support themselves or who have parents who can provide for them while they work without pay.

We asked current and former interns to share their experiences.


Hannah: I'm currently coming to the end of a three-month PR internship at a leading UK law firm, that operates in eight locations across the UK.

The news article really struck a chord with me as, at the moment, the firm's marketing department is made up of five unpaid interns, two paid managers (men) and a PR woman who is paid minimum wage. The managers are continually recruiting interns to do their job for them.

As I come to the end of my three months they aim to replace me with another unpaid intern who will undertake my role for three months, then to be replaced and for the cycle to be repeated.

Although I have learnt a lot, as I am from a deprived background I feel that this company have exploited, and will continue to exploit graduates.

I am currently working eight hours a day (and a half-an-hour break), four days a week and I am unpaid except for lunch and travel expenses. I also have to travel for three hours every day to get there.


Dean: I worked at football club as a performance analysis intern for an unpaid year-long internship. I completed the internship whilst studying sports coaching, in my third year at university and the opportunity the club provided me was absolutely fantastic.

I was working at a Premier League club and that stands out on my CV massively. I graduated with a first-class honours and I also completed my dissertation with the club.

So once I left university I already had the internship under my belt, meaning I was able to step into my new role. I also had a part-time job whilst studying and completing my internship. I think the problem is that students are too lazy to actively look for work whilst studying. Internships are fantastic opportunities.

The question is, how and what the intern is willing to undergo to get to where they want to be. People should not be paid for internships as they can gain valuable experience - I mean what more do people want?

Image copyright PA

Katherine: I interned at a UN digital team in the UK back in 2014. It was for six months on the understanding I'd be reimbursed for my train tickets from Essex and for lunch each day.

At the end of the six months I moved on to a paid role at another charity and was told they'd only cover travel within London - i.e. the price of a London travelcard each day - which meant I was hundreds of pounds out of pocket.

It reinforces the attitude that internships are only for privileged people living in the capital. They had two interns replacing a paid full-time member of staff who left for a senior role.

When I look back on it now I just think of it as spending six months volunteering for a cause I care about, but it was a huge expense for me at the time. I don't come from a well-off family; my dad was a labourer and my mum works in a call centre.

The internship definitely opened doors for me - it was almost all I talked about in my interview for my current job. So now I can say it was worth it.

But while it was worth it for me I do think interns should be paid for their time. And charities need to have more accessible entry-level roles to help people gain experience while being paid a living wage.

The irony of working for free while working on anti-slavery and poverty reduction projects wasn't lost on me!


Lucy: I am a third year biomedical student at Manchester university. Sadly this year, I had to turn down a placement at Kings College London because of a minimal stipend of £60 that was to cover travel.

The lack of payment meant that I would have had to have worked multiple jobs, resulting in me turning down a great placement to earn experience.


An intern who wants to remain anonymous: I work at a company in London's creative industry, which pays only one employee.

The rest are interns - there's about 15 of us. There used to be another paid employee but the bulk of the work is done by interns. I do this three days a week and the rest of the week I work as much as I can in a bar to afford rent and other expenses.

It's impossible to get a job in the creative industry without experience, which is why I've stayed.

Experience doesn't pay rent though which is why everyone I meet doing bar work is struggling with unpaid internships doing graphics, PR, fashion, music, film, etc.


Produced by Paul Harrison, UGC and Social News team

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