Unpaid work is exploitative, exclusive and not conducive to social mobility.

Recent debates focusing on the root cause of the problem (the methodical privatisation of higher education) are obviously necessary. However, what many people forget to bring to the fore is the second hurdle to the lower socio-economic groups. What to do when they finish university?

The first option is of course, paid work. However, with increasing youth unemployment across the globe, prospects are bleak for graduates. The government vociferously claims that it is focused on rewarding merit, but the best jobs are still subject to the old adage “it is not what you know, but who you know”, subjecting graduates to a repetitive and vicious circle no experience, and therefore little prospects.

The second option available is therefore unpaid work. Internships are theoretically a great way for graduates to experience life in the work place and opening doors to a life of work. The problem lies in the “unpaid”. The vast majority of graduates are not in the position to work unpaid, which therefore means that in practice, most internships are only available to the privileged minority who can afford to work for free. Nick Clegg attempted to address this issue when it was revealed that his millionaire father and a titled friend of the family had launched his own career. However, the latest Lib Dem internship (http://www.w4mpjobs.org/JobDetails.aspx?jobid=29808) is of course, unpaid.

Interns should be entitled to minimum wage. If this government is truly concerned with social mobility in the UK, paid work is the most viable solution. It would allow for the employer to push more responsibility onto the intern more fairly and allow for those graduates stuck in a rut to escape and gain valuable experience whilst earning. The money spent by the employer would not be wasted, as it would allow for potential candidates who wouldn’t have applied before to become available – true meritocracy and therefore better productivity.

For the time being, we are stuck. The rich and connected are continually offered positions both paid or unpaid to further their careers or education, whilst the poorer students are forced to abandon their “dreams” and thereby negate the value of their degrees. When a degree will cost £27,000 it appears as though paid internships are an absolute necessity to ensure a meritocratic society and dismantle the entrenched elitist structures currently in place.

by Nico Leon.

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