The Sutton Trust analysed statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s 2012-13 leavers’ survey to find that, of the respondents who reported that they were employed as interns six months after graduation, 30.6 per cent said they were unpaid.
The thinktank called for all interns who carried out placements that lasted for longer than a month to be paid at least the minimum wage.
It calculates that a six-month unpaid internship in London would cost a graduate £5,556, or £926 a month, in accommodation costs, bills and food – presuming that their transport costs were covered by their employers.
Even outside the capital, the costs are substantial, with the bill in Manchester coming to £4,728 for the same period, excluding transport costs – equivalent to £788 a month.
The thinktank concludes that the increasing importance of work experience in the job market meant graduates from poorer backgrounds were being put at a disadvantage.
“The cost of taking on an internship without pay is beyond the means of the vast majority of individuals,” said Lee Elliot Major, the thinktank’s director of development and policy. “Paying all interns who work for over a month the minimum wage would significantly improve access to these placements for those from more modest backgrounds, offering them a stepping stone into many coveted jobs, thus increasing social mobility.”
The Sutton Trust also released polling which found that 70 per cent of people aged between 16 and 75 in England agreed that unpaid internships were unfair because only the wealthy would be able to work without pay.
In comparison, 24 per cent of respondents felt they were fair because they provided valuable work experience, and 15 per cent felt they were fair because people who really wanted a particular career would find a way to support themselves.
A third of those questioned said interns who work for up to a month should be paid the minimum wage or above, with this proportion increasing to 55 per cent for internships that last for between four and six months. The figure rose to 73 per cent for internships that last longer than a year.
Just 3 per cent of respondents felt internships that last for longer than a month should be completely unpaid.