‘No pay for charity interns’ breeds elitism, says new report

‘No pay for charity interns’ breeds elitism, says new report

15 May 2013

Charities should stop exploiting unpaid interns and pay them the national minimum wage, otherwise working for voluntary organisations will become the preserve of a wealthy elite.

This call came today (Wednesday 15 May) in a new report called: Interns in the voluntary sector – time to end exploitation from Unite, the country’s largest union and Intern Aware, an organisation campaigning for fair, paid internships and against exploitation.

Unite, which has 60,000 members in the not for profit sector, said that charities should follow the example of such ‘good’ employers as Clinks, a support group for offenders and their families; the Methodist church; and the National Housing Federation which paid a proper rate for the job for interns.

Unite research also found that more than a third of the top 50 charity employers in England and Wales did not pay their interns (based on Charity Commission data from 2013).

In the report, Unite national officer for the not for profit sector Sally Kosky and Intern Aware’s co-director Gus Baker said: “The UK is at risk of creating a society that discriminates against those who are unable to intern for free for long periods of time.

“With the majority of national charities and voluntary organisations based in London, those who cannot afford the spiralling rents in the capital can’t get the opportunities that they deserve.

“Structured, paid internships and training schemes are better for young people and are better value for employers, who will get higher quality and more motivated applicants.”

The report calls for an end to unpaid internships in the third sector; interns to be paid the national minimum wage, currently £6.19 an hour for those over 21; and the re-introduction of paid entry level jobs to expand the social diversity of job applicants.

The report said: “Unpaid internships in the third sector breeds elitism, and only provides guaranteed access to jobs for those who can afford to work for free for anything from three to 12 months.

“As a result of this elitism and inaccessibility, the sector is losing out on talented, passionate and committed young people, and instead runs the risk of becoming a sector reserved for those from wealthy backgrounds.”

A snapshot survey of 206 student/graduate interns revealed:

• Nearly two-thirds thought that at least the minimum wage was fair as the appropriate level of pay
• 53 per cent of those interns on expenses-only thought that unpaid internships were not justifiable

The report said that internships masquerading as ‘volunteering opportunities’ to evade paying the national minimum wage regulations should cease.

Interns in the voluntary sector – time to end exploitation


For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940 and/or Gus Baker on 07967 584711.

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.5 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey. 

  • Intern Aware is the national campaign for fair, paid internships. We believe that unpaid internships are exploitative, exclusive and unfair. By asking people to work without pay, employers exclude those with talent, ambition and drive who cannot afford to work for free. Employers and young people alike benefit from the best graduates getting the best jobs. Only by paying interns a fair wage can we ensure this happens. 
  • We aim to persuade the government to fully enforce the National Minimum Wage Act, so employers are forced to pay at least the legal minimum to the interns that they hire. We furthermore aim to educate interns and employers on the benefits on internships to help empower people from all backgrounds to be able to access the opportunities they need to get the careers they deserve.