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Employment: Internships

Volume 758: debated on Wednesday 14 January 2015


Asked by

My Lords, the Government actively promote and encourage the creation of placements and internship opportunities. However, the key responsibility lies with businesses and education providers, who must work together to help students acquire the skills and knowledge that employers need. Placements, internships and work experience will be part of this.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. He might be interested to know that I tabled a Question for Written Answer to try to find out the number of interns working in Parliament as a whole, but we do not have that information. To be an intern costs hundreds and perhaps thousands of pounds. For example, it is almost impossible for someone living in the north of England to come and be an intern in Parliament. Have the Government been considering any plans to limit the time that someone can be intern without being paid or to ensure that interns are paid at least the minimum wage?

My Lords, internships are often a very positive thing, particularly in competitive industries. When it comes to pay, we support and encourage employers to pay interns, and quite often we encourage them to pay the minimum wage. However, it is important that someone is given the chance to start in a job with a view to making a career, and sometimes interns are not paid.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of a graduate recruitment company called Instant Impact. These days it is really critical for young people to have significant CVs which are padded out with jobs that they have done. It is therefore important that they have internships. However, those who get internships tend to be better connected and wealthier people who can do them without pay. I really think that the Government should reconsider whether there should be a minimum wage after four weeks. Would the Minister agree to this?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that interns play a very important role. When an internship is on their CV it becomes easier for a young person to find a job. What is important, as the noble Lord says, is that everyone should be treated fairly and in a transparent way. I think it is important that companies use services such as the Government’s Graduate Talent Pool to find interns rather than simply accept the children of friends or family or people they know.

Is the Minister aware that there is a very successful internship programme which is funded within the Palace of Westminster? It is run by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which encourages suitable students to come in and spend some time reporting on the POSTnotes, which we all use in Parliament. Does the Minister not consider that this might well be extended to other areas of parliamentary activity, because it is an extremely successful system which encourages young scientists to think about such things as policy and ethics?

My Lords, we find a lot of demand for interns who want to work in Parliament. Parliamentary politics is one of the areas where it can often be difficult to get a job without having had that experience. It is for individuals and colleagues to make decisions on remuneration and the number of interns they employ.

My Lords, I entirely agree with the Minister that placements and internships are a very positive experience. Is he aware that more than one in 100 of the population has an autism spectrum disorder? Only a small proportion of them access jobs, despite the fact that many of them aspire to work and have the ability to do so. How will the Government increase internship opportunities for this group? Has consideration been given to extending the Business Disability Forum supported placements model, which helps disabled people into employment while helping employers to understand the benefits of taking on staff with disabilities?

My Lords, five years ago the department launched the Graduate Talent Pool. The website has more than 10,000 employers and about 109,000 graduates registered to use its services. It has been effective for people of all ages and races and particularly for SMEs. I encourage people to use the website and the private sector to encourage more firms to use its services.

My Lords, internships can often represent the first significant step up the social mobility mountain. Will the Minister commend the work of Channel 4 with its 4Talent scheme and the diversity charter it launched this week? It offers a guaranteed social mobility interview for work—and, crucially, internships—to people who otherwise would not have a hope in hell of breaking into the British media.

My Lords, a number of organisations, including charities, have established internships. I think that most of us would agree that internships can be only a valuable experience for young people. I am delighted that the Social Mobility Foundation and others are working so hard to help people from less well-off backgrounds to gain access to our most competitive industries. I am pleased to say that the Deputy Prime Minister launched the Social Mobility Business Compact to support businesses to pay internships.

My Lords, will the Minister consider some recommendations from a recent report from the Economy Committee of the London Assembly, which said that all interns who work for more than four weeks should be paid not just the minimum wage but the living wage? It also said that all internships should be advertised openly to create a much fairer opportunity for those who are less fortunate.

My Lords, the minimum wage level is set by the independent Low Pay Commission. It is set at the highest possible level, without costing jobs. The Government are committed to improving living standards, particularly for the low paid, and to encouraging businesses to voluntarily adopt the living wage wherever possible. On top of this, the Government have introduced fiscal policies to support people who are paid lower amounts by increasing their personal allowances.