More than a quarter of graduates have taken an unpaid internship, a survey has suggested.
Most internships in retail, media and fashion were unpaid, according to the survey from the Sutton Trust – a body that campaigns for social mobility.
It surveyed more than 2,600 graduates as well as 1,000 business leaders.
The report coincides with a bill to ban unpaid internships of more than four weeks, which will be brought before the House of Commons on Friday.
“Unpaid internships prevent young people from low and moderate-income backgrounds from accessing careers in some of the most desirable sectors such as journalism, fashion, the arts and law,” said Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust.
“This is a huge social mobility issue. It prevents these young people from getting a foot on the ladder.”
The highest proportion of unpaid internships was found in retail (89%), followed by the arts (86%) and the media (83%).
However in IT, just 26% of interns were unpaid.
The report also suggested there was confusion among graduates and employers about the current rules governing internships.
At the moment the national minimum wage must be paid to interns who work set hours or are given specific tasks by a manager who oversees how they are done.
But a spokesperson for the Sutton Trust said the guidelines from HMRC leave a grey area, which is why the organisation is pushing for the rules to be tightened up.
Many respondents to the Trust’s survey needed help while on their internship.
The results showed that 43% of unpaid interns lived for free with family or friends, 26% needed money from their parents and 27% took a paid job to fund their internship.
The survey also found “some evidence” that doing several unpaid internships might be bad for employment prospects.
More than 70% of respondents to the survey who were doing their fourth or fifth internships said they were unpaid.
Of those that only did one internship 62% were unpaid.
“This suggests that many young people in certain industries are being trapped in cycles of unpaid placements without significant benefits to their career,” the report said.
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