Friday, May 24, 2013

Why the Liberal Democrats should pay their interns

It's time for the Liberal Democrats to pay their interns, say a list of Liberal Youth types in an open letter to the party's president, Tim Farron, published on Liberal Democrat Voice.

And they are right.

I have reached an age where I am remarkably relaxed about young people not being paid. But, as the letter says:
This is about minimising barriers, one of which is affordability. Some of us have worked in the past as unpaid interns; we know that sometimes people are happy to work for free, or feel they have to in order break into a profession. This doesn’t make it right, and it is not an option for many people.
This is a much better argument than the one Jo Swinson used when writing about unpaid interns in the public relations industry earlier this month. To her it was a question of ending exploitation.

But as Simon Titley pointed out on Liberator's blog:
The problem with interns in the PR industry is less the exploitation of interns than the exploitation of the PR industry. 
Most PR interns come from wealthy families and are privately educated. Their parents subsidise them by providing housing and income. Anyone without that sort of support would find it difficult to survive unpaid anywhere, let alone in central London where the PR industry is concentrated. 
This is the main reason why the PR industry (especially the big agencies) is dominated by the products of public schools, and young people from more modest backgrounds find it so difficult to break in. (Interestingly, the people from more modest backgrounds who do break into PR tend to do so later in life at a more senior level, having first done a proper job). 
The main benefit of tackling the problem of interns will therefore not be to end ‘exploitation’. It will be to force the PR industry to conduct entry-level recruitment more on the basis of merit than privilege.
In a way it is a bit unfair to pick on the poor old Liberal Democrats when this is a society-wide problem. But the party does need to tackle it before we go the way of the PR industry.

Or perhaps we have. I remember taking part in one of the phone conferences with Lib Dem ministers' special advisers that the party sometimes usefully organises. On putting the phone down my chief impression was how upper class everyone had sounded - and I am usually the last person to worry about things like that.

If we don't change things soon, Nick Clegg will soon be the least posh person in his own office.

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