‘Recession’ and ‘Credit Crunch’ are terms becoming well-worn in the graduate vocabulary. Latest Government figures show that 17% of all 18-24 year olds are unemployed. The Association of Graduate Recruiters has released a report this summer stating that there are a staggering 48 applications for every graduate job vacancy, and that overall vacancies have fallen by 25%.

The Government, in association with major graduate recruiters, has launched ‘Talent Pool’, a scheme designed to match luckless graduates with medium term CV-building internships. A survey of opportunities available on the website reveals however, that over 55% of internships offered are unpaid. David Lammy, Universities Minister, assured ‘Talent Pool’ applicants: “We encourage employers to pay a wage which reflects the value of the intern’s contribution.”

The legality of unpaid internships is a grey area, and is currently under review by the Low Pay Commission. However, there must be no contract or obligation to ‘provide or undertake work’ by either party, and hours of work and specific duties cannot be stipulated. Essentially, the internship must be designed to be educational for the graduate, rather than generate revenue for the company, although often this is not the case.

Highly competitive sectors such as journalism, law, PR and finance are often accused of exploiting unpaid interns, where often the only way of securing a permanent position is to demonstrate work experience gained through placements. Most graduates cannot afford to live in London – where most internships are offered – without earning a wage, which leads to accusations of graduate employers reducing social mobility. As Wes Streeting, NUS President, so eloquently puts it: “People who aren’t supported by the bank of mum and dad are excluded.”

Henry Blanchard

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