Entering the world of work is hard. You might just be grateful for a position and dismiss the way you are treated in order to gain that golden ticket of a reference and work experience to progress to a graduate or entry level job. The reality is that graduates and school leavers are being offered internships in the UK and abroad that are not only unpaid but devoid in value for the future of that individual. At the British Youth Council, we believe that unpaid internships are ways for employers to reap the benefits of the young creative minds of today, without any cost.
We believe that internships should be required by law to pay the Real Living Wage. This will ensure that interns are able to take advantage of the opportunity to explore their career options without financial stress and the burden of taking on part time or extra work to fund their experiences.
Recently the European Youth Portal published a blog by a young woman who had experienced an internship that degraded her experiences as an educated, competent and enthusiastic employee. She was ‘relegated’ to making coffee for her employers and described her experience as ‘depressing’.
I am saddened that this was the case, as I too have experienced a traumatising internship experience abroad, that not only cost me thousands of pounds but led to a huge loss of confidence and trust in dedicating myself to another program. After landing in the USA (a country I had never been to before) I was informed that the job I had worked so hard to secure my visa for was no longer viable – this was working for a congressman, in one of the oldest and most respected establishments of the American state. To this day I have not received an apology or acknowledgement of the stress that this caused to me, never mind the financial strain this put me under.
Luckily, I have managed to move back with my parents and save up that money that has allowed me to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling opportunity as a paid International Programmes Intern at the British Youth Council. Here, I am able to utilise my experiences as a volunteer in this role as well as my academic knowledge of international relations. I feel valued in my role and have been given responsibilities that will allow me to make a proud impact on the organisation and its support of young people both nationally and internationally.
I hope that this next Parliament recognises the vulnerability of our young workforce in gaining those opportunities, that will set their attitude and outlook on work for life. Our young people need to be educated and protected in order to gain meaningful experiences that will contribute to them realising their potential, and paid a real living wage.
On June 8th, it is crucial that young people head to the polling station and cast their vote in the General Election. Whatever changes are being implemented now, they will affect our generation – young people – more than they will ever affect the politicians implementing them. This election in particular is extremely important, since the next Parliament will be shaping a post-Brexit Britain. Therefore, we must ensure our interests are represented and considered when conducting negotiations.
Moreover, a high turnout of 18-24 year olds will put young people’s issues on the political agenda. Once we turn out to vote, we send the message that young people are engaged, aware and want to influence their future. We will have to be heard by decision makers.
A significant issue that I am very passionate to see the next Parliament implement is a real national living wage, for young people. This is a key issue for my generation, since the minimum wage for under 25’s is lower than for those over 25. The Real Living Wage is an hourly rate of pay, calculated independently that reflects the cost of living in the UK. It is set as £8.45 across the UK with the exception of £9.75 in London. However, the government’s current living wage falls short of the real living wage by a considerable margin, and is only £7.05 for under 25’s. This is not good enough. Young people across the UK should be afforded the right to earn a wage that enables them to live.
What’s more is that young people can be paid less than their older counterparts for the same job, same hours and same work! This needs to change, as the assumption that young people don’t need as much as over 25’s to live is absurd. A real national living wage for young people has been a key issue that young people raised and was our national priority campaign following over 200k votes in our Make your Mark consultation in 2015.
I hope that the next Parliament will make this a priority and start a dialogue with young people in shaping the future of their country.