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MPs call for ban on unpaid arts internships

A group of MPs is calling on the government to ban unpaid arts internships. Photo: Shutterstock A group of MPs is calling on the government to ban unpaid arts internships. Photo: Shutterstock
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A group of cross-party MPs is calling on the government to ban unpaid internships in the sector, following evidence submitted to an inquiry that labelled them as “the curse of the arts industry”.

The MPs have also called for internships and work experience placements to be publicly advertised, so that a more diverse range of candidates are encouraged to apply.

The calls are outlined in a report from the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility, called The Class Ceiling. This has been produced following an inquiry that explored what is being done to increase the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in professions such as the arts, medicine and journalism.

The report draws on the evidence submitted from people including outgoing Arts Council England chair Peter Bazalgette, who warned that unpaid internships were “the curse of the arts industry”. He said there was an expectation that young people will work for less than the minimum wage, which he added was a “major barrier for disadvantaged young people interested in accessing jobs in the creative industries”.

Last year, theatre company You Me Bum Bum Train was accused of exploiting workers after it advertised for unpaid production interns.

As well as banning unpaid internships, sector-specific recommendations for the arts in the report call on schools and colleges to “encourage young people to develop their skills in creative pursuits, regardless of background”.

It adds that the business case for having more diverse groups of people in the arts, particularly those from different socio-economic backgrounds, needs to be developed further.

The government should also provide proper support and funding for local arts projects, through which lower income families could access theatre visits.

Actor Michael Sheen contributed to the inquiry that fed into the report. He told MPs that “the failure to ensure working-class voices are heard in film, theatre and TV will have a wider impact on society as a whole”.

He added that theatre needed to appeal to everybody and “not just the privileged few”.

More generally, the report claims employers should “increase efforts to reduce the London-centric focus of recruitment”, and should cover travel costs for interviews and work experience.

The group’s chair, Justin Madders, said the inquiry heard from “profession after profession that signifiant 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, they need to take a much more strategic approach,” he said.

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