A six month unpaid internship will cost a single person living in London a minimum of £5,556 (or £926 a month), according to new Sutton Trust research published today, which recommends that all interns should be paid the minimum wage.

These costs are revealed in a new Sutton Trust research brief alongside analysis of the latest higher education data which shows 31% of university graduates working as interns are doing so for no pay.

A newly published Ipsos Mori poll for the Sutton Trust, showing that 70% of people aged 16-75 in England agree unpaid internships ‘are unfair because only people from wealthy families are likely to be able to work for a significant period without pay,’ is also included in today’s research brief. This belief is consistent across all social and financial profiles.

Support for paying interns varies according to the length of the placement. A third of those questioned say interns working for up to a month should be paid the minimum wage or above. This proportion increases to 55% for internships of 4-6 months and 73% if internships last longer than 12 months. Less than 3% think internships lasting longer than a month should be completely unpaid.

The new research brief, Internship or Indenture 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 back an intern a minimum of £4,728 (£788 a month), excluding transport costs (which are usually paid by the employer).

Today’s research finds the cost barriers to participating in an unpaid internship have significant consequences for social mobility. The Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission reported that at least half of entry-level vacancies at City investment banks and leading law firms are likely to be filled by graduates who have already completed work experience with the employer. It also found that 63% of cultural and creative, 56% of media-related, and 42% of financial and professional services internships advertised on the Graduate Talent Pool website were unpaid.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, Director of Development and Policy at the Sutton Trust said;

“Unpaid internships are increasingly the gateway to a job in the most competitive professions. But as today’s research shows, the cost of taking on an internship without pay is beyond the means of the vast majority of individuals.

“Paying all interns who work for over a month the minimum wage would significantly improve access to these placements for those from more modest backgrounds, offering them a stepping stone into many coveted jobs, thus increasing social mobility.”

Today’s research brief recommends:

·         All internships longer than one month should be paid at least the National Minimum of £6.50 per hour, and preferably the National Living Wage of £7.85 (or London Living Wage – £9.15 – in London).

·         Internship positions should be advertised publicly, rather than being filled informally.

·         Recruitment processes should be fair, transparent and based on merit.


1.       The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 150 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.

2.       Ipsos MORI surveyed a quota sample of 1,728 adults aged 16-75 in England from 13th – 17th June 2014 via its Online iOmnibus Survey. The survey data were weighted by age, gender, region, social grade, working status and whether the participant is responsible for their household grocery shopping. Data are weighted to the known profile of the English population aged 16-75.

3.       The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report on access to the professions can be downloaded here.

4.       Average savings were taken from the 2012 ING Direct Customer Savings Monitor, as reported here.

5.       Average earnings data was calculated from the 2013 ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

6.       Cost of living figures used in the research brief (sourced and compiled by the Sutton Trust) ) for a six month period can be found at the bottom of this PDF.

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Sam or Rocky on the number below. The number is also monitored out of hours.

E: [email protected] T: 0204 536 4642

Keep up to date with the latest news