Ban unpaid internships to boost social mobility, say MPs

Young people will miss out on top jobs unless employers take socioeconomic factors into account

The government should ban unpaid internships to improve social mobility across the UK, according to a cross-party group of MPs and peers.

The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility, The Class Ceiling, states that thousands of talented young people will miss out on top job opportunities unless employers start to take socioeconomic factors into account.

It also calls on employers to review their work experience policies to ensure they are "fair and transparent", and can be accessed by young people from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

The report found that contextual recruitment – where firms aim to identify candidates with the most potential by looking at their achievements in context to their social background – is only used by a small proportion of employers.

Employers should also increase their efforts to make their recruitment less London-centric, by increasing regional outreach and covering candidates' travel costs for interviews or work experience placements, the report states.

The Sutton Trust’s Leading People 2016 report showed that the UK’s top jobs – from MPs and journalists to actors and musicians – remain disproportionately populated by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge universities, despite these only educating a minority of the population. Almost a third of MPs in the 2015 intake were independently educated.

MP Justin Madders, chair of the APPG on Social Mobility, said the government must take a “strategic approach".

“We know that social mobility at the top of UK society is shamefully low,” he said. “Throughout this inquiry we have heard from profession after profession that significant barriers exist to young people from less advantaged backgrounds.

“If the current government is serious about improving access to top jobs for those from less advantaged homes, it needs to take a much more strategic approach. This means linking the work of schools, universities and employers to build a business case and practical plan for improving social mobility.”

Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said that employers must do more.

“Getting more graduates from low- and middle-income backgrounds to the top of professions is vital both for social mobility and the economic success of the country,” he said. “Employers, supported by government, have to do more to improve diversity through their recruitment practices, including through greater use of contextual admissions.”

This is not the first time a ban on unpaid internships has been proposed. Draft legislation looking to ban them was blocked by the government in November 2016, although it pledged to look at the practice again as part of RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor's review of modern working practices.