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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.