Published: 12th March 2015
I fundamentally believe that unpaid internships are the biggest barrier to social mobility today: a worrying form of modern slavery accepted on both the left and right of politics, journalism, fashion and big business.
As a one nation, blue-collar Conservative my core beliefs do not always fit into the cosy world of left/right politics, but I do believe that being pragmatic and determined to ensure everyone can reach their full potential, regardless of background, is the position from which political parties should seek to govern.
The idea that ‘the Tory party is for the rich and Labour is for the poor’ simply does not hold true. It will surprise many to learn that when I, a Conservative MP, brought forward my parliamentary Bill to ban unpaid internships, it was a Labour MP who called a vote to oppose it.
This only goes to show how hard it is going to be to outlaw such exploitative practices.
Work experience is a key developmental tool in our journey through education into the workplace and there should always be a system to ensure these opportunities exist for as many children as possible. That’s why, on advice from campaign group Intern Aware, my Bill suggested a maximum period of four weeks work experience should be permitted before an employer has to pay the national minimum wage.
There is a world of difference between doing work experience for a limited period and working for months on end – often in London – without pay as the only way to access a career in a top job.
In my view, it is this practice that means those from the richest backgrounds are often the only contenders for top jobs. Unpaid internships erode opportunities for people like myself and my sister who went to comprehensive school.
I became a Mechanical Engineer before entering Parliament and my sister became an orthopaedic surgeon. We did not have a wealthy background and our parents didn’t pay for our education, but our hard work got us the careers we wanted. These opportunities must be available for everyone today, regardless of wealth, and even though this government has increased social mobility compared to a decline under Tony Blair, all of our hard work will be undone if we do not tackle this growing hurdle in our midst.
In the Commons, one Labour MP argued that she hires unpaid interns because she could not afford to pay them. MPs have a staffing budget of £140,000 a year, if this particular Labour MP can’t afford to pay people the minimum wage with this budget then she shouldn’t be hiring them at all. Some people are simply using unpaid internships as an acceptable excuse to treat people as slaves.
With 55 days to go until the General Election, I call on all parliamentary candidates across the UK to declare that they will not hire an unpaid intern if elected. Refusing to do so shows nothing but an acceptance to exploiting young people in the workplace.
I will never hire an unpaid intern. It is time to make this practice illegal.