Rising rents and inflation mean an unpaid internship now costs a single person living in London a minimum of £1,019 per month, according to Sutton Trust research published today. With many internships several months in length, taking on a six-month internship in 2018 would cost a young person £6,114.

Internships – Unpaid, unadvertised, unfair examines the cost of an internship in London and Manchester. Cheaper rental costs mean a six-month placement in Manchester is less expensive than one in London but would still set an unpaid intern back a minimum of £4,965 (£827 a month). This excludes transport costs which are often paid by the employer.

Costs for London and Manchester are both higher than when the Sutton Trust carried out similar analysis in 2014. The Trust then estimated that an unpaid internship would cost a single person a minimum of £926 per month in London (£5,556 for six months) and £788 in Manchester (£4,728 for six months).

Since then there have been some moves in the right direction by employers, and a greater awareness of the issues surrounding internships. Several organisations – Pret a Manger, for example – have started to pay their interns, the Brit Awards have introduced ten paid internships to help open up access to the music industry and there are reports that publishing houses are increasingly introducing paid internships.

However, organisations continue to advertise for unpaid interns online and through informal networks. The research brief highlights examples of internships that were advertised online this month. They include a major fashion designer who was looking for an unpaid design intern to work for two-to-three months in the lead-up to their London Fashion Week show. Similarly, an MP advertised a six-month internship with no set hours and only expenses covered. The role involved undertaking research, analysis and briefings on upcoming issues.

There are around 70,000 internships each year. Sutton Trust analysis for this briefing estimates that 10,000 graduates are in internships six months after graduation, though many more will do them at other times. Over 40% of young people who have carried out an internship have done at least one of them unpaid.

The high cost of living in London is likely to be pricing out young people from families on low and middle incomes from internships like these. Research carried out for the TUC found that four in five (78%) of 18-34 year olds could not afford to live in London away from home to become an unpaid intern.

For the top professions, internships are increasingly seen as a requirement before a first job. The Trust is concerned that the significant costs associated with unpaid internships are shutting many less advantaged young people out of careers.

Minimum wage legislation makes many unpaid internships illegal, but the law is not properly enforced. In fact, the government recently confirmed that there have been zero recorded prosecutions in relation to interns and the National Minimum Wage. The Trust is backing a bill by Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond tightening minimum wage legislation to ban unpaid internships over four weeks in length, a move that has also been supported by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and the government’s Social Mobility Commission. The Trust would like to see all internships longer than one month to be paid at least the national minimum wage of £7.50 and ideally the Living Wage of £8.56 (£10.20 in London).

The Trust is also recommending that internships should be advertised publicly and that recruitment processes should be fair, transparent and based on merit.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Around 40% of young people who have carried out an internship have done so unpaid. All internships over four weeks should be paid at least the minimum wage of £7.50 per hour.  Failure to do so prevents young people from low and moderate-income backgrounds from accessing jobs in some of the most desirable sectors such as journalism, fashion, the arts and politics.

“All internship positions should be advertised publicly.  Large numbers of internships are never advertised and instead offered through informal networks.  This practice locks out young people without connections.  Also, the process by which potential candidates are selected for internships should uphold the same standards of recruitment as for other jobs.”


  • The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 200 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  • The figures calculated here include the minimum costs which most young people would be required to pay to undertake an internship unpaid. They assume that an intern is living in inner London’s cheapest borough in a shared house for combined rent and council tax (currently Newham), and can travel to work from there by bus.
  • Since the Sutton Trust’s previous report in 2014, the underlying costs of living used to calculate this figure have risen, due to rising rents and inflation. Our methodology has been updated slightly since our previous report, to better reflect the typical living situation for an intern.
  • Lord Holmes Private Members’ Bill seeks to limit unpaid internships specifically by amending the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 to make provision for the prohibition of unpaid work experience exceeding 4 weeks. The bill was given its first reading on 27 June 2017 and its second on 27 October 2017. It is about to enter committee stage.

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