MPs and peers have recommended a ban on unpaid internships, claiming they prevent people from less well-off backgrounds from pursuing their chosen career.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on social mobility said today that people who ‘cannot afford to work for free’ are losing out. Its report, the ‘Class Ceiling’, also warns that unless employers take into account factors including whether a prospective employee grew up in a poor neighbourhood, young people will have a ‘lost opportunity’.
On the legal sector, it notes that partners at the UK’s best performing firms, including all members of the ‘magic circle’, are more likely to be privately educated.
According to the report only a small proportion of employers use contextual recruitment, where firms aim to identify candidates with the most potential by looking at their achievements against their social background.
The group also recommends that employers make their recruitment less London-centric, by increasing regional outreach and covering travel costs for interviews or work experience.
The inquiry followed the publication of the Leading People 2016 report by social mobility think trust the Sutton Trust in February last year. It showed that the UK’s top jobs remain disproportionately populated by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge.
The APPG’s report also referenced figures published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority based on data provided by law firms. The figures showed that 68% of UK-educated solicitors at partner level or equivalent attended state schools and 32% independent schools.
However, in London 59% of UK-educated London-based partners or equivalent attended state schools and 41% independent schools. In firms of more than 50 partners, including all the magic circle firms, 52% of UK-educated partners or equivalent attended state schools, with 48% attending independent schools.
‘We can conclude that privately educated partners are more concentrated in London than elsewhere in the UK and even more likely to be represented within the UK’s largest (and so usually most successful) law firms. Through this data we can build the case for change,’ the APPG said.
Labour MP Justin Madders, chair of the group, said: ‘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. This means linking the work of schools, universities and employers to build a real business case and practical plan for improving social mobility.’
Last year, the government-backed Social Mobility Commission also encouraged employers to end ‘unfair’ internships where people work for free.
The commission’s chair Alan Milburn called for placements that last longer than four weeks to be classed as an ‘internship’ and for workers to be paid at least the minimum wage.