Sian Griffis and Iram Ramzan trail our new research on internships published this coming Friday in an article for the Sunday Times.
Almost a third of interns working in parliament are unpaid, a report will reveal this week.
Research by the Sutton Trust, a charity that campaigns to improve social mobility, showed that more than a quarter of the interns gained their position through a personal connection, either with an MP or a peer or another member of staff.
The finding fuels concern that only those with good connections land the most coveted roles.
Sir Peter Lampl, the trust’s founder, said: “This is a major social mobility issue. We need to open up jobs in Westminster based solely on merit. Outlawing the exclusionary practice of unpaid internships is a good place to start.”
The research will be published on Friday — the same day that a private member’s bill which proposes a ban on unpaid internships of more than four weeks is on the order paper to have its second reading in the Commons.
The trust used interviews with 234 current and former parliamentary interns and found that 55% of those who had completed an unpaid internship had worked for more than four weeks and 19% had worked for longer than six months.
Sam Alvis, 27, who has a master’s degree in climate change, did a six-week unpaid internship for a Labour MP in London in 2015 and was paid only his travel expenses. To fund his rent and other costs, he used his savings and got a weekend job in a pub, meaning he was often working seven days a week. His parliamentary work ranged from administrative, responding to constituents’ messages, to cleaning the office.
Alvis, who now works for a medical charity, said: “It wasn’t a nice experience. You’re made to feel like things are your fault.
“It’s a problem with the system. I left parliament without a job because I had depression and couldn’t face going back in. There’s no reporting mechanism or anywhere to turn to.”
Tanya de Grunwald, founder of the Graduate Fog website, said: “It’s endemic to the political culture, where you’re told to earn your stripes and earn your dues.
“No one wants to take responsibility to make sure people are paid. It’s exploitation and exclusion.”