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Government internships row is reignited


The contentious issue of internships has erupted again after it emerged one in three posts on a government jobsite was unsalaried and the Liberal Democrats were advertising for unpaid work experience.

The revelations follow a political row last month after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg criticised unwaged internships, saying that workers should be “properly renumerated” ideally in line with minimum wage laws. He also said that widespread nepotism meant opportunity was not based on “your ability and drive” but on “who your father’s friends are”.
It subsequently came to light, however, that Clegg had obtained several such placements as a young man due to family connections and that the Liberal Democrats were themselves offering unsalaried internships.
Despite the controversy and Clegg’s vow to stamp the practice out, the LibDems are currently advertising unpaid internships on their web site. While the party warns that applicants will not receive a wage, it does indicate that they will be entitled to limited travel expenses and a lunch worth up to £5 instead.
Ben Lyon, the co-director of Intern Aware, a group campaigning for equal opportunity internships, accused Clegg of hypocrisy. He told the Sun: “You can maybe buy a sandwich for £5 a day, but you can’t buy a bed to sleep in. That means these internships will only be available to a small minority. If Nick Clegg is really serious about this, he’ll sort his own house out first.”
But a LibDem spokesman retorted: “What we said was not that they should be paid but that, at the very minimum, they should get proper renumeration for the work that they do. That can be travel costs and money for lunch.”
A Freedom of Information request submitted by graduate recruitment company Give A Grad A Go, meanwhile, showed that 30% of the internships advertised on the government’s official Graduate Talent Pool website so far this year have been unwaged.
Of the more than 7,600 vacancies that appeared on the site up until 6 May, more than 2,200 were unpaid, even though some of them were full-time posts lasting for several months.
The website, which was set up by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is intended to connect graduates with the various internships being offered by the private sector.
But Gary Curtis, Give A Grad A Go’s managing director, told the BBC that the recent social mobility debate between the Prime Minister and Clegg had highlighted the “lack of a coherent approach to internships and work placements”.
One of the problems was that the word ‘internship’ was not properly defined in law and “therefore often leads to graduate exploitation,” he added.

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