Where does volunteering stop and exploitation begin?

8 July 2011

1:06 PM

8 July 2011

1:06 PM

There’s always something satisfying about appearing in a new publication and I made my debut in the Stage, the publication of the theatre industry this week.

I was horrified to see that Kevin Spacey’s Old Vic had been advertising for unpaid interns. Oddly, this is something that liberal Britain seems happy with. (Sometimes the right understands
better that you need to pay people for an honest day’s work — I was delighted to see that centre-right think tank Policy Exchange was advertising for a paid intern this week).


The Old Vic’s John Richardson responds here. The Old Vic has even made a video celebrating the way they use unpaid labour (see above).

We have a problem here. Where does volunteering stop and exploitation begin? The Old Vic genuinely thinks it is doing good by offering these opportunities.

Let’s make it clear, the Old Vic should not be advertising for three-month long unpaid internships. This is quite possibly illegal and certainly unfair because so few people are in a position
to take up such a post.

At the same time, the government needs to be very clear that the Big Society is more than just a vast slave labour scheme.

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Show comments
  • Linda P

    I have been a volunteer for six years after being sacked from the NHS for having depression. I have had to watch other ‘healthy’ people get jobs on a plate while I carry on working for nothing. And yes I am on benefits so I’m a ‘scrounger’ to boot. Over the last five years my workload has increased, long term volunteers are the ones doing all the donkey work, it is a major ‘charity’ so skint it can pay its CEO a quator of a million pounds but cant even find the money for our Christmas meal. Yes I couldn’t even go for a meal Because I couldn’t afford it. I am doing semi legal work because the paid legal solicitor is no longer funded. One volunteer who is around the same age ase me pushing 50 had worked for nothing for years was desperate for a job but because he suffered arthritis and needed time off when he was ill walked out after jobs were given to others. It is nothing but a con if you suffer a disbality or mental health problems, yes we’ll exploit you to the hilt but your not worth paying for

  • rndtechnologies786

    Your think is nice.

  • Sarah

    Exactly – there is a difference between internships and volunteering.
    I happily volunteer for charities but am a little miffed that I NEED to do an internship to get into work in the Arts so that I know the right people and can prove myself.
    Saw one advertised Mon-Fri 10-6 for 6 months and you actually have a role within the company. Now how is that not exploitation?

  • Martin Bright

    There is a difference between charity volunteers and unpaid interns doing jobs that should have wages attached to them. There is a deep confusion at the heart of the Big Society about this. Volunteering does not and should not give you experience of the working world, it gives you experience of volunteering.

    There is also a difference between a discussion and anonymous insults.

  • jackal

    Intern culture/inefficiency of University education is creating a generation of state dependants.

  • ndm

    Volunteering Advisor writes:

    — Apart from the obvious benefits to the charities themselves, internships provide individuals with valuable, professional work experience – without experience it’s very difficult to get paid employment in many fields so how else would a young person or anyone trying to break into a new field gain this degree of experience?

    It would be a lot easier for workers to be paid for these positions if the organizations didn’t view internships as a pre-requisite for the position. Doing so discriminates against a large part of the potential workforce for these positions – and, consequently, leads to sub-optimal workforce. Of course, there may be some who view that as a positive benefit of internships.

  • Volunteering Advisor

    Disaappointingly this is a very poorly researched article – a swift call to Volunteering England or the Wales Council for Voluntary Action could have resulted in the writer becoming aware of a few key facts.

    Apart from the obvious benefits to the charities themselves, internships provide individuals with valuable, professional work experience – without experience it’s very difficult to get paid employment in many fields so how else would a young person or anyone trying to break into a new field gain this degree of experience?

    Another point – the law regarding volunteering and benefits is quite clear – as long as one is available for work within 7 days and for interview within 2 then volunteering is acceptable – in fact as far as the DWP is concerned it is now desirable as it provides people with work experience, a regular routine etc etc.

    And as for expenses then it is perfectly legal – and, I would suggest, only right – for volunteers to be reimbursed incurred expenses such as travel costs etc. However, paying a daily rate of ‘expenses’ is tantamount to an employment contract and raises a whole different set of issues which charities need to be very aware of.

  • Neil Goulder

    “quite possibly illegal”?

    Volunteering was at the heart of the last government’s vision for springboarding young people with no experience into the employment market (hence, for instance, the millions invested in Youth Volunteering through v)and at the heart of “Big Society”.

    So either successive Governments have been acting illegally by encouraging and funding volunteering programmes, or the writer needs to do a little research before putting finger to keyboard.

    The flawed premise fundamentally undermines the article and, quite frankly, the credibility of the journalist that wrote it.

  • David

    Martin Bright is completely right to raise this issue. Unpaid work, often in the past a route to particularly desirable careers, has now become a neccesity for almost any career (see work trials on the Mcdonald’s website).

    Internships that pay travel and lunch expenses are often, but not always, a better option than the dole. Now that the Government has signelled it may be acceptable to intern while claiming the dole internships have become Government subsidised labour for companies and charities that cannot pay their own way in the world.

    Internships should be considered unacceptable not only as they are damaging to the individuals concerned, not only because they are damaging to any competing company with an honest long term skills strategy but also to us as taxpayers (some internships pay ‘expenses’ of more than the NMW without the associated NI payments).

    Those who complain that internships are for the over privaleged should remember that those who suffer worst from inequalities are always resented by the general population. For most interns, payhaps only in the current cliamte, the choice is internships or the dole. There is a name for people who intern and are not hoping it will help them get a job, and that is a volunteer. Volunteers do not go into debt working 45 hours a week. As many of you may know, interns frequently do.

    I would be very interested to hear any sincere reasons why anyone reading the Coffee House wall believes unpaid work is an acceptable use of Government funds.

  • Richard

    The law of unintended consequences: one of the reasons so many organisations use unpaid interns is the massive over-regulation of employment. The most obvious is the minimum wage – if you want someone to do £4 an hour worth of work, you have to use an unpaid intern. However employment also brings on many other responsibilities and regulations that don’t apply to unpaid interns.

  • TrevorsDen

    Where the money runs out you thick pillock

  • ndm

    Martin Bright is correct in criticizing the Old Vic advertising (and offering) internships. It is one thing for people to volunteer altruistically for an organization and quite another for an organization to expect the free provision of labour as an entry requirement for future employment. The latter restricts access since people without independent means are not able to perform the required internship.

    If memory serves, there used to be (and perhaps still is) a requirement that aspirant barristers work essentially unpaid for one year. This rule had nothing to do with the practice of law and everything to do with ensuring only the right type of fellow could become a barrister. It is sad to see the Old Vic resorting to this.

  • Chris

    When volunteers stop volunteering, it’s because they feel they’re being exploited; because they no longer have the time; or (most often, I suspect) because government regulations make it too much bother. You are raising a non-problem here; the last reason is the one you ought to be complaining about.

  • protectyourself

    Not everyone works to earn money, some work doing things they enjoy, volunteering. I do thin kthe Old Vic is possible getting ahead of itsself a but, and it would be interesting to see if these “internships” are actually just skivying around as a dogsbody or actually a nice program.

  • Davey Crockett

    It’s interesting that the author of this article doesn’t mention that the old vic is a charity – it’s one of this country oldest and most dearly beloved theatres and deserves a (free) helping hand to keep going just like other charities, like oxfam or the national trust, or the british museum – all of whom have people working for them for free all the time. And he clearly doesn’t know the law either.

  • cg

    Stewie obviously thinks these posts should be limited to those who can affor to go on them – keeps the rabble out, don’t you know. Most people couldn’t afford to do a three month unpaid stint because they need the money. If they are unemployed then they would lose out on the chance of paid work.

  • Stewie

    “and certainly unfair because so few people are in a position to take up such a post”
    What complete and utter rubbish.

    Students with working parents. Non working husband/wife. Retired people. Many Many Many people.