London mayor Boris Johnson backs paid internships in London at national minimum wage, "if not the London Living Wage"

Lynsey Barber
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Boris is backing paid internships (Source: Getty)

London mayor Boris Johnson has backed calls to take action on the scourge of unpaid internships blighting the prospects of young people in the capital.

It's understood to be the first time the mayor has outlined his position on the issue, saying he supported paid internships and encouraged businesses employing interns to pay at least the minimum wage, if not the London Living Wage.

Responding to calls to tackle internships and ensure job prospects in the capital are available to all, Johnson said he is also open to the option of applying limits on the length of time a business can employ an intern without pay - a move that was recently backed by a number of businesses, including PwC and KPMG.

A third of young adults in London have been or are currently an intern, however, fewer than four in 10 are paid the national minimum wage which stands at £6.50 for those aged over 21.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The mayor is supportive of high quality paid internships, he encourages employers to pay the London Living Wage where possible and is proud that the Greater London Authority group pays the London Living Wage to all its staff, including interns and apprentices.

“He is also open to exploring the role of internships in London and whether there should be a cap on the length of time that an intern can work unpaid,” the spokesperson added.

The London Assembly's economic committee, led by Baroness Jenny Jones, had recommended that the mayor develop a policy position on internships and that he promote quality paid internships across the capital.

The committee also called on Johnson to be part of an awareness raising campaign on intern rights and to commission further research on the role internships play in the London job market and the capital’s economy.

Initial research by the committee found almost four times as many young people would be able to do an internship if they were paid minimum wage, compared to ones that were unpaid. That increased to almost five times as many if they were paid the London Living Wage.

Internships are now largely seen as rite of passage after graduation as young workers seek to prove themselves and get on the first rung of the career ladder. The lack of pay limits the number of young workers who are able to afford to work for free. The latest research from the Sutton Trust suggests an internship in the capital costs £926 a month.

Many of the big business sectors operating in London, such as the fashion and media industries, are among the worst culprits when it comes to employing young graduates without pay.

The London economic committee concluded unpaid internships are bad for London’s businesses by limiting the pool of talent available, reducing productivity in the capital over the long term

The mayor said he would be happy to commission further research to better understand the role of internships in the capital which would include identifying the best ways to promote paid internships and explore proposals for a limit on internships which don’t pay.

Jones welcomed Johnson’s support but called for action to be taken against businesses which were exploiting interns over long periods of time.

"I'm glad the mayor is starting to recognise the problem with unpaid internships and obviously more research will be welcome. But companies should be forced to automatically pay interns who work for four weeks or more; we don't need any further research to know that long periods of unpaid work is exploitative," said Jones.

Chris Hares, campaigns manager of campaigning group Intern Aware, said: "It is encouraging to see the mayor of London looking to address this problem, which is mainly focused in the capital. We hope that Boris gets behind the calls from young people and businesses alike for a four week limit to unpaid internships. The evidence is clear that we finally need to see an end to unfair and unpaid internships."

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