Only 4% of doctors, 6% of barristers, 11% of journalists and 12% of solicitors have “working-class origins”, according to the London School of Economics. Just over three years after graduating in 2010-11, those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were 11% less likely to be in professional employment than those from the most advantaged. People whose parents worked in higher managerial and professional occupations make up only 14.7% of the population, but 27.2% of them end up in those occupations. Conversely, those with parents who worked in routine or semi-routine employment form 31.7% of the population, but only 17% of those who end up in top jobs. 32% of new entrants are recruited by top graduate recruiters from internship programmes; in banking, it is as high as nearly 80% of the graduate intake.
The government’s social mobility commission will recommend the failure of employers in elite professions such as law and the media to stop using unpaid interns in the face of warnings must be met with a ban on the “unfair” practice. The most sought-after professions have become even less representative than the most selective universities, with jobs in effect closed off to those without a network of contacts and significant financial support. The commission warns that Britain remains “a deeply elitist nation where the chance of getting a well-paid job in a top profession is still strongly correlated with social background”. It adds: “It is time to treat internships as part of the formal, not informal, labour market.” Internships ranging from a few weeks to a year or more have become a prerequisite for access to the professions
The commission believes it is high time that internships are defined in law and unpaid internships banned. “Any work placements that last more than four weeks should be classified as internships and those doing them should receive at least the minimum wage.”
The vast majority of internships are said to be in London, where the cost of living is highest. With the average cost of renting a room in London £743 a month and a monthly travel card more than £100, an internship can cost more than £1,000 a month to fund. The commission finds that people from working-class backgrounds – even high attainers – are less likely to secure such jobs because they have “less access to networks and knowledge to navigate the system than their more affluent peers”. The report explains, “If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you are educated privately.”
“The damaging impact of unpaid internships on social mobility cannot be overstated. Young people without financial support from their parents are effectively excluded due to means not merit and potentially locked out from sought-after careers entirely.” The commission finds that the medical profession has “found it much harder to open up … to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Others, like the Bar, risk becoming even more socially exclusive”. The report adds: “In the arts and media, the dramatic rise in unpaid internships and practice of securing work experience through contacts is closing off these careers to all but those from privileged backgrounds.