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Almost nine out of 10 internships in the arts are unpaid – report

The Pay As You Go report warns that failing to pay interns means young people from lower-income families cannot afford to work in the arts Photo: Anna Jurkovska/Shutterstock
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More than 85% of internships in the arts are unpaid, new research has revealed.

The finding is presented in the report Pay As You Go, which warns that failing to pay interns means young people from lower-income families cannot afford to access the “most desirable” sectors, including the arts.

The report is published by the Sutton Trust, a charity that aims to improve social mobility in the UK. Its research included responses from more than 2,600 graduates, of which 1,023 had previously undertaken an internship. It also surveyed a “representative sample of employers”.

The arts was listed as the second biggest sector for interns, after education and research.

According to the research, 86% of internships in the arts, which includes theatre and music, are unpaid. Its definition of unpaid includes expenses-only placements, and those that offered rates below the minimum wage.

The research highlights how the arts had 32% fewer working-class interns than in the graduate population as a whole.

Last year, a report commissioned by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre claimed unpaid routes into the industry were “rife”, with the percentage of people coming into the sector through unpaid internships and volunteering more than doubling in the past 20 years.

Sutton Trust founder Peter Lampl said he was concerned that the lack of pay in areas such as the arts meant access for young people from lower income households was restricted. The research suggests the cost of living in London is £1,100 a month.

“With the number of placements on offer continuing to grow, the report highlights the disturbing level of unpaid internships across the country. Simply put, failure to pay interns prevents young people from low and moderate-income backgrounds from accessing jobs in some of the most desirable and high-profile sectors such as journalism, fashion, the arts and politics,” he said.

Pay As You Go is being published as a bill to ban unpaid internships goes before the House of Commons.

Lords seek to ban ‘modern slavery’ of unpaid internships

The trust is backing the bill and wants to see internships of more than month in length paid at least the minimum wage.

According to the report, media internships were most likely to display none of the characteristics of a “good internship”, with the arts following second. Quality indicators include having training and monitoring in place, and a designated supervisor.

The research found that those who had done internships in the arts have an average salary of £22,000, one of the lowest salaries reported.

Through its survey, the Sutton Trust found that 27% of graduates had undertaken an unpaid internship. Internships appear to be on the rise, it said, with 46% of 21 to 23-year-olds having done one, compared with 37% of 27 to 29-year-olds.

A large proportion of unpaid interns – 43% – said they relied on living rent-free with family and friends to get by.

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