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Published on March 1st, 2011 | by Katie Langton
Image © Only days after writing my original instalment of ‘Desperately seeking a salary’, condemning the elitism of unpaid work experience, The Mail on Sunday exposed the ‘cash for internships’ scandal, underlining just how desperate the current situation is for young people looking for work. The Mail reported that auctioning prestigious internships recently raised more than £20,000 for the Conservatives at their glittering - £400 a ticket - Black and White Party, attended by David Cameron and wife Samantha. Millionaire Tory supporters paid £3,000 a pop to secure the golden chance for their privileged offspring to spend just a week or two with one of several top city firms. The whole affair left a rather grubby stain on the Conservative slogan ‘we’re all in this together’, and the prime minister felt compelled to ban the practice. A senior Tory aide stated: ‘You can rest assured that this kind of auction will not be part of next year’s event. It was badly misjudged’. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="354" caption="We're all in this together via conservativeparty on flickr"]We're all in this together[/caption] While Labour was quick to ridicule this textbook Tory gaffe, neither party are guilt free on this issue. In a clash during prime minister’s questions, Ed Miliband criticised Cameron for viewing ‘social mobility’ as ‘auctioning off a few City internships at the Conservative Party Ball’, but the Prime Minister, in turn, mocked the Labour leader’s own use of internships to enter politics. A quick browse through the ‘w4mp’ (work for an MP) website will throw up a number of unpaid opportunities to work with various Labour MPs. Currently Labour’s Margaret Hodge seeks ‘a bright and hardworking individual’ to ‘assist with casework, research, campaigning and communications’. Under ‘salary’ is found the typical statement: ‘This is a voluntary position although reasonable expenses will be paid’. However, according to Kayte Lawton, a fellow at Public Policy Research think tank, this type of work legally merits the national minimum wage. While Lawton defines ‘work’ as ‘pre-determined tasks, you’re expected to be in the office, you have deadlines and your work is monitored’, by contrast we are told ‘work experience…is about shadowing, going to meetings with people, things where you are not contributing to the business of the organisation’. The job with Margaret Hodge surely falls under the banner of ‘work’. In indirectly discriminating against those who can’t afford to do a job for no pay, as well as those outside London, this is a far cry from the social mobility and equal opportunities that Labour claims to promote. The overall picture for those seeking their first political job in Britain is bleak. According to the Unite union, less than 1% of parliamentary interns receive the minimum wage, and nearly half do not even get their expenses reimbursed. However, this situation is positively progressive by US standards, where 20,000 interns descend on Washington each summer, dwarfing the 450 currently connected to the UK parliament. Internship auctions are well established across the Atlantic. The US-based website ‘Charity Buzz’ has sold well over 100 internships at American organisations, including a one-week placement at Vogue that recently fetched $42,500. Thankfully, Cameron’s bid to take a leaf out of the American book has backfired. But his ban on auctioning internships is a token response that barely touches on the inequalities inherent in unpaid work opportunities. In doing so little to tackle the bigger picture, it is a response I find almost insulting.

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Desperately seeking a salary part 2: the great graduate job hunt goes on and on…

Only days after writing my original instalment of ‘Desperately seeking a salary’, condemning the elitism of unpaid work experience, The Mail on Sunday exposed the ‘cash for internships’ scandal, underlining just how desperate the current situation is for young people looking for work. The Mail reported that auctioning prestigious internships recently raised more than £20,000 for the Conservatives at their glittering – £400 a ticket – Black and White Party, attended by David Cameron and wife Samantha. Millionaire Tory supporters paid £3,000 a pop to secure the golden chance for their privileged offspring to spend just a week or two with one of several top city firms. The whole affair left a rather grubby stain on the Conservative slogan ‘we’re all in this together’, and the prime minister felt compelled to ban the practice. A senior Tory aide stated: ‘You can rest assured that this kind of auction will not be part of next year’s event. It was badly misjudged’.

We're all in this together

We're all in this together via conservativeparty on flickr

While Labour was quick to ridicule this textbook Tory gaffe, neither party are guilt free on this issue. In a clash during prime minister’s questions, Ed Miliband criticised Cameron for viewing ‘social mobility’ as ‘auctioning off a few City internships at the Conservative Party Ball’, but the Prime Minister, in turn, mocked the Labour leader’s own use of internships to enter politics. A quick browse through the ‘w4mp’ (work for an MP) website will throw up a number of unpaid opportunities to work with various Labour MPs. Currently Labour’s Margaret Hodge seeks ‘a bright and hardworking individual’ to ‘assist with casework, research, campaigning and communications’. Under ‘salary’ is found the typical statement: ‘This is a voluntary position although reasonable expenses will be paid’. However, according to Kayte Lawton, a fellow at Public Policy Research think tank, this type of work legally merits the national minimum wage. While Lawton defines ‘work’ as ‘pre-determined tasks, you’re expected to be in the office, you have deadlines and your work is monitored’, by contrast we are told ‘work experience…is about shadowing, going to meetings with people, things where you are not contributing to the business of the organisation’. The job with Margaret Hodge surely falls under the banner of ‘work’. In indirectly discriminating against those who can’t afford to do a job for no pay, as well as those outside London, this is a far cry from the social mobility and equal opportunities that Labour claims to promote.

The overall picture for those seeking their first political job in Britain is bleak. According to the Unite union, less than 1% of parliamentary interns receive the minimum wage, and nearly half do not even get their expenses reimbursed. However, this situation is positively progressive by US standards, where 20,000 interns descend on Washington each summer, dwarfing the 450 currently connected to the UK parliament. Internship auctions are well established across the Atlantic. The US-based website ‘Charity Buzz’ has sold well over 100 internships at American organisations, including a one-week placement at Vogue that recently fetched $42,500. Thankfully, Cameron’s bid to take a leaf out of the American book has backfired. But his ban on auctioning internships is a token response that barely touches on the inequalities inherent in unpaid work opportunities. In doing so little to tackle the bigger picture, it is a response I find almost insulting.

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