Svalbard's Serena Cherry slams companies who enforce unpaid internships

The band Svalbard

We’ve all heard the argument, ‘What if the clever child with the ability to invent a cure for cancer cannot afford the education to do it?’ Well, let’s apply that worrying logic to all businesses (not just the university shaped ones).

What if the person who could maximise your profits/inspire your workforce/create an ingenious new method is…poor? And not ‘I can’t afford a third cup of coffee on my way back to my parent’s massive house’ poor. Genuinely, debilitatingly poor. No family home to live in rent-free. No safety net of savings. Just a discouraged, blue collar worker, trapped beneath a landslide of endless monthly outgoings.

How will their talents be utilised when corporations only offer unpaid internships as a way in? What if the person who could be the key to a company’s success simply couldn’t afford to work for them for free?

Has it ever occurred to these discriminatory businesses that the missed opportunity… might be theirs?

No, of course it hasn’t. If companies are perfectly comfortable with the word ‘unpaid’ then we can’t expect them to baulk at the word ‘unfair.’

Over 70,000 unpaid internships are offered in the UK each year (according to The Sutton Trust). The majority who undertake them are reliant on parental support, with lodging and travel expenses often subsidised by mum and dad. Straight off the bat, companies with unpaid internship schemes rule out young people whose parents cannot provide. Those whose parents got divorced and now live in separate one-bedroom flats, with no space for their offspring. Those who don’t have parents at all. These youngsters are denied crucial work experience, purely based on their family background.

But really, it’s their lack of initiative, right? Look at these eager, driven, competitive young people who did do an unpaid internship. Doesn’t it speak volumes of their work-ethic, their determination, their ambition? NO. It means that they were financially comfortable enough to work for free. Being middle class is not a fucking mark of character.

On the subject of the middle class, isn’t it slightly alarming that thanks to unpaid internships the middle class are filling up every power position? They take the majority of political roles, journalist positions, jobs in the arts, because they can afford to work for free in these coveted areas. Where are the voices of the working class in these job sectors? Well, you probably can’t hear them over the grinding halt of social mobility. God forbid a desirable job would go to an ‘undesirable’ person.

It’s not all opposition though. In 2017, Lord Holmes’ called for a ban on unpaid work experience that lasts longer than four weeks. While his Unpaid Work Experience (Prohibition) Bill has not yet reached the committee stage, the government recently vowed to crack down on exploitative unpaid internships.

However, at previous Conservatives annual Black and White balls, the most prestigious unpaid internships were auctioned off to party donors; who spent thousands on a fortnight of work experience for their children. Just where exactly do they really stand on this issue? Time will tell, and we can only hope the tide is turning.

But right now, if unpaid internships are the current price of plonking a posh foot in the career door, we have to ask, what is the cost? The voices, dreams, brains and ideas of the working class. Unable to get a job because they haven’t got experience and unable to get experience because they cannot afford to work for free, this cycle of exclusionary behaviour spirals down to suffocate and restrict the poor. Something has got to change soon.

Svalbard’s new album It’s Hard To Have Hope is out May 25, via Holy Roar Records.

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