Unpaid, unadvertised, unfair

Report Overview

For young people who cannot afford to work for free, and for those who do not have the networks with which to secure a placement informally, internships are acting as a barrier to the best careers – and to social mobility. 

Written by Research Fellow Dr Rebecca Montacute, this brief analyses the latest data to examine at what cost a young person is taking an unpaid internship in 2018 and how we can ensure the best internships are open to all young people, regardless of their background.

Key Findings

  • Even if transport costs are provided, our new analysis shows the minimum cost of carrying out an internship in London unpaid is £1,019 per month (or £827 in Manchester). This is higher than we estimated in our last report in 2014, largely as a result of rising rents and inflation.
  • Although there has been some progress since our last report on the subject, organisations continue to offer internships which are unpaid, and offer internships without formally advertising them.
  • Current research suggests that over 40% of young people who have carried out an internship have done so unpaid.
  • The most recent government estimate is that there are 70,000 interns in the UK at any one time, although there is no newer estimate available than 2010. In 2017, 11,000 internships were found to be advertised online, but many more are likely to be being offered unadvertised.
  • New Sutton Trust analysis of the most recent HESA data suggests that roughly 10,000 graduates are carrying out an internship at six months post-graduation, with 20% of them doing so unpaid.
  • There are concerns that some employers are either unaware that their interns should be paid, or that some employers are exploiting the lack of clarity in the law to avoid paying their interns.


  1. All internships longer than one month should be paid at least the national minimum wage

To open-up access to internship opportunities, interns should be paid at least the national minimum wage (£7.05 per hour for 21-24 year olds, or £7.50 for over 25s). Preferably, interns should be paid the Living Wage of £8.75 (or London Living Wage, £10.20, in London). The current law should be tightened to ban unpaid internships over four weeks in length.

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

Large numbers of internships are never advertised, and instead offered through informal networks, for example to friends or family of staff. This practise locks out talented young people without connections, limiting their opportunities and hampering their social mobility. All internships should be advertised publicly, so that regardless of connections, all potential applicants can apply.

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

As well as being openly advertised, the process by which potential candidates are selected for internships should be fair and transparent – upholding the same standards of recruitment as other jobs. All internships should be awarded on merit to the best candidate, not based on personal connections.

January 30, 2018