Writing for the Guardian, Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, argues that "internships are the face of privilege, restricting opportunities to those able to work for nothing or for a pittance - or sometimes even pay the price in cold hard cash." He sees the auction of internships at the Conservative Party's recent Black and White party as evidence that internships are "a morally bankrupt free-for-all, a new glass ceiling in the making."
The auction saw internships at top hedge funds and PR companies sold for an average of £3000. Furthermore, as Perlin observes,
with most positions lasting only a week or two, it's obvious there won't be much real work or training taking place. On the other hand, these silver-spoon interns will have a name brand to burnish their CVs and may even have time for a handy bit of drive-by networking.
Originally kept quiet from the public eye, the discreet auction has now been condemned by the media and Labour MPs as grossly inappropriate at a time of rising unemployment amongst the young. However, Perlin picks up on the widespread exploitation of interns in Washington and Westminster:
Nor should we take very seriously the criticism from Labour MP Tom Watson: "This is a crass example of rich Tories buying privilege ... It is obscene." Despite high youth unemployment and the pointed findings of the Milburn report - that the current internship system restricts access to the professions and reinforces inequality - the world of politics remains rotten with interns. Of the interns who work for MPs, less than 1% received the UK minimum wage, and nearly half were not even reimbursed for expenses, according to the general workers' union Unite. The New Statesman has estimated there are some 450 revolving interns connected to parliament, providing some 18,000 hours of free labour a week, saving MPs an estimated £5m a year. By US standards, this is all still child's play: some 20,000 interns descend on Washington DC each summer, approximately 6,000 of them working in Congress without pay.
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