MP defends decision to employ unpaid interns

Crawley MP Henry Smith has defended his decision to recruit unpaid interns after a Labour councillor said it ‘leaves politics open to only the privileged few’.

Henry Smith’s office is currently offering a three month full-time internship at Westminster without pay but his office does pay travel and subsistence costs.

He has been criticised by the Leader of Crawley Labour Group, Cllr Peter Lamb, for offering the unpaid positions, which he says prevents young people from poorer backgrounds getting into politics.

Cllr Lamb (Lab, Northgate) said: “No doubt getting hands-on experience in an MP’s office can be a fantastic career opportunity, but very few people can afford to work for free. By just offering unpaid internships our MP is leaving politics open to only the privileged few.”

Mr Smith said: “I think offering young people work experience in an MPs office who have, or are about to leave, school or college is important. It provides a valuable insight that can boost an individual’s CV.

“Some of that work experience may be for several days or up to a few months, but my office is always flexible. Unlike most MPs’ offices, travel and subsistence costs are paid for but the available budget does not extend to an extra salary being available. Many companies and organisations use interns. My view is that such work experience opportunities provide an alternative for poorer students with a zeal for politics – university degrees or post-graduate studies versus what is effectively an apprenticeship in an MP’s office. This is an especially important option available to young people given the invaluable practical skills and experience that can be accrued through the role during a period in which prospective employers are demanding higher skill set standards at basic entry levels.”

Arts employment charity The New Deal of the Mind Group has set up the Parliamentary Academy where MPs can employ paid apprentices. Several MPs have signed up to the scheme and the group said it would encourage Mr Smith to get involved and help enable young people from non-traditional backgrounds to work in parliament.

The charity’s CEO Martin Bright said: “Over the last year MPs from all political parties have begun to recognise the barrier that unpaid internships impose, using alternative paid schemes, such as The Parliamentary Academy.

“However, it is clear more needs to be done to provide more opportunities for young people who cannot afford to work for free.”