Paid internships bill fails to clear Parliament: Where do we go from here?


Last week, we talked about the upcoming Internships Bill, which sought to ban the advertisement of unpaid internships and regulate the conditions of their employment.

The piece was a rallying call for action from Government, business leaders and interns to get behind the Bill and potentially start changing the employability prospects of a generation.

It was important step in the campaign to stop unpaid internships and demonstrate that asking young people to work for free is unacceptable, and not to mention potentially illegal under national minimum wage law. While it wouldn't have totally eradicated the practice, the Bill would have reduced these internships' number and visibility and begun the process of necessary cultural change.

Cynically, I wrote:

‘The reality is that, regrettably, the resounding majority know nothing about this bill or its potential significance. To add further insult to injury, the bill will probably not be heard in Parliament on its scheduled date, and, even if it is, only a handful of MPs are likely to turn up to hear it and vote on its outcome.’

Call me prophetic - the Bill wasn’t even heard.

It was just one of 16 other bills due to be heard in Parliament on Friday in a space of five hours.  Perhaps I was naïve to think this movement had any traction.

The Bill was not heard and any move towards improving employment conditions for interns has effectively died.

Not a party issue

Why has this not gained any parliamentary traction? Here is the grim, bureaucratic reality: This is not a party issue. A bill proposed by one MP, without government support, is unlikely to make any parliamentary progress.

Cast your minds back to a few years and the tuition fees scandal; protests, parliamentary debates, widespread and consistent media coverage assault.

Unpaid internships are just as pressing a problem for young people of today… so why aren't we seeing the same anger?

The truth is that this is not politically interesting to any of the parties. No party has come out in support of it. No political points are scored or lost.

The tuition fees furore had such widespread publicity because it became a policy of both the Conservative and Labour Parties, only to then be opposed by the Lib Dems in a thinly veiled attempt to gain student vote. We don’t need to cast our minds too far back to Nick Clegg’s embarrassing apology for his U-turn on that particular policy.

Let’s fast forward to 2015 election time when it is likely that no party will have successfully tapped into the‘youth vote.

Proper payment for internships is a youth issue. What a vote-winning opportunity. I suspect we’ll hear rallying cries from all political parties declaring themselves as standard-bearers for youth employability - but what will they promise?

Call me cynical? Sadly just realistic.

Where do we go from here?

While the bill may be dead the campaign is not. Outside of the Commons, there are groups and businesses campaigning for greater intervention to change the political and cultural environment surrounding this issue.

Pressure group InternAware is rallying support from Government and business alike to ensure a sustained momentum for this cause.

My firm, Instant Impact, the internship recruitment agency that unites students and graduates in paid internships and graduate jobs with SMEs, is setting the tone and business example for this campaign. Their SME clients show that businesses see value in paying their interns, if SMEs can do it then why can’t big business catch on?

Students and graduates we need you! Lobby your MP and raise awareness of this issue. Remember your MP is supposed to be accountable to you. Let’s ensure they remember this.

We cannot let this issue lie. We need new campaign leaders, reinvigorated support and new standard-bearers. Hopefully then business leaders and Parliament will stand up and take notice. The fate of a generation may depend on it.

Sabina Usher is a History graduate from the University of York. She now works for Instant Impact who places students and graduates in internships and permanent jobs. All positions are paid.

Keep up to date with InternAware to follow and support this campaign.

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