Is this a hoax? Unpaid internships have got to the stage where you can't tell

Plus 100 UK companies are being investigated over interns.

I did a number of unpaid internships in various places before I got a job. It was fine though - I guess the internships gave me valuable experience which made me more employable, so they didn't need to pay me.

But then, I'm also getting valuable experience now. Arguably more valuable than when I was an intern. In fact as I continue in this job, doing different things, the experience has, if anything, made me more employable than I was at the start. I'm still waiting for my first pay-cut in recognition of this though.

The unpaid stint has become de rigueur for entry to an ever increasing range of industries. Internships don't make you stand out anymore - so you do more of them, and for longer and longer and longer, until you find yourself working for a year, unpaid, as a Performance Analyst for Reading Football Club:

Now this could be a hoax, but if it is, it's pretty much indistinguishable from real internships being offered by a large number of other companies. It was announced today that 100 UK companies are being investigated for breaking the law over interns, by using them in positions that actually require minimum wage. Their details were passed to HMRC by Jo Swinson, Employment Minister.

A spokesman for the Department of Business said: "The law on the National Minimum Wage is clear. If somebody on a work experience placement or internship is a worker under NMW legislation, then they are entitled to the minimum wage.

"Internships can be a valuable way of helping young people get into work and realise their ambitions. Anyone who feels they are being exploited should contact the Pay and Work Rights Helpline. Their call will be fast-tracked to HMRC who actively investigate any claims of NMW abuse."

Jo Swinson said in a letter: "I would like to take this opportunity to thank Intern Aware for their help and continued support on this issue.

"The list of employers that you provided will be treated as intelligence by HMRC. Intelligence forms part of the risk process by helping to identify sectors where there is a higher likelihood of non-compliance."

Not before time. It is impossible or at least inadvisable for interns to take a stand against prospective employers. HMRC is the proper group to do it on their behalf.

 

Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

Photo: Getty
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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform