The BBC – looking the other way

Last night, the BBC Panorama programme looked at how some bodies seek to get round the minimum wage legislation.  It ended by referring to MPs who utilise unpaid interns and for some reason cited Hull students on placement at Westminster, using one Hull graduate to comment that he felt the students were being used unfairly by MPs.  One cannot generalise from an N of 1 (not least in a situation where the number of students who have been on placement runs well into three figures), but that did not stop those responsible for the programme.  The graduate wasn’t even commenting on the placement scheme that he undertook, but never mind, hearsay is always usable.  The programme did at least quote the university pointing out that there is a world of difference between people who volunteer to work unpaid for MPs and those students on placement at Westminster who have institutional and financial support geared to the particular needs of the student.  We also said a lot more, but none of that got used. 

However, the most remarkable part of the programme lay in what was not covered.  Those offering work experience on an unpaid basis are not confined to some MPs.  Some leading organisations offer unpaid placements.  Perhaps the most notable example is – the BBC.  It offers a large number of unpaid work placements; some are for short periods, but that does not affect the principle.  

One can only wonder why such an obvious example was ignored.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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12 Responses to The BBC – looking the other way

  1. Sam H says:

    As a WHIP student the academic loan is fine and the experience is worth it’s weight in gold.

    Also I fear people are forgetting the first rule of the of the Hull Mafia, ‘Never Talk About the Hull Mafia’

  2. Croft says:

    “some bodies seek to get round the minimum wage legislation.”

    Err. Since the legislation was never intended to cover unpaid activity they are not getting round it but excluded by design.

    As to the BBC forgetting to cover certain issues – shock horror.

  3. Mr Miller says:

    Apart from commenting on the Panorama page on the BBC website is there any other channels for commenting as I feel the representation of Hull uni intersnships were grossly unfair.

    I also feel that Mr Norris’s comments were very selective and the reporting of the fees were misleading. Although I paid half fees for my internship, this covered pastoral care, academic assistance and resources to aid academic work.

    Poor show from the BBC

  4. Edward Brunsdon says:

    As someone who has done some unpaid voluntary work at Parliament and CCHQ, I think the BBC should mind its own business – It has been hugely useful for my CV and understanding of politics and I am grateful that those involved gave me an opportunity to help.

    As for the complaints, whenever I have complained to the BBC they have told me they will out the complaint on their bulletin list and thats it… whereas OFCOM take complaints much more seriously, I received a very well considered and detailed reply to a complaint I made about a different matter.

    However, I think I am right in saying OFCOM regulates the BBC on taste/standards issues and leaves the BBC to regulate itself on impartiality / political bias. However, I think the University itself, or someone on behalf of the University could complain to OFCOM about unfair treatment, and you could get an investigation by OFCOM on that front.

    • ladytizzy says:

      Minor point but time worked as a not the same as time served as an intern (or work experience), nor is it the same as unpaid work. Similarly, a worker is not the same an an employee…oh, you get the point by now.

      • Lord Norton says:

        ladytizzy: It gets more complicated, as the agreement that MPs have to lodge with IPSA in order to provide expenses to students on placement is termed a ‘volunteer intern’ agreement.

  5. Pete says:

    It’s free labour for the corrupt elite. If Lord Norton wants to do something positive, then he and his department should set an example by paying the national minimum wage (at least) for the period of the internship. The Panorama programme did what it was supposed to do – it exposed another exploitative practice.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Pete: This is complete pants. So much so, it is difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps you should consider applying for a job at the BBC.

      The ‘Panorama’ programme quoted only a single sentence (albeit a highly germane one) from a five-page response of the University to their skewed claims. There is a reason that the law exempts students on work placements from the minimum wage legislation. There is no real comparison between people who work for less than the minimum wage because they are desperate for a job and those who spend a specified and limited period of time gaining experience that will prepare them for what they do later in life and for whom the experience is thus an investment for the future.

      There is, furthermore, a world of difference between those who volunteer to work unpaid for MPs (or the BBC) and those students who are on placement and in receipt of student loans, maintenance loans, expenses from the MP and, where they are in financial need, bursaries. (We have specific bursaries where the sole criterion for an award is one of financial need.) The former have a contract with the MP whereas the latter retain a contractual relationship with a third party,ín this case the university, a distinction that has been recognised in case law. Students on placement have institutional, financial and pastoral support that does not exist in the case of individuals who offer their services direct to the MP. We can ensure that placements are available to students regardless of their backgrounds, whereas unpaid volunteering cannot.

  6. Pete says:

    Recent case law states that, irrespective of label (ie, ‘placement’ ‘internship’ etc) if the internship is part of a course (for example, ITT PGCEs) then no payment is necessary. I think most people would agree with this.However, as the BBC programme clearly showed, students were engaging with your internships and feeling severe hardship. Defending this by stating that students receive a variety of income streams is not good enough. Young people should receive either national minimum wage or above or a training allowance equivalent to national minimum wage. This would help bring a degree of clarity to the when ‘to pay or not to pay interns’ debate. Further, this is exacerbated by other industry sectors taking on young people on an unpaid basis by dangling a carrot of a possible fulltime position at the end of it.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Pete: Your comments repeat the fundamental flaw of the programme. It did NOT show that students on the internships were feeling severe hardship. They interviewed one student and one furthermore who had not taken the internship (the BPLS internship) on which he was commenting. To say that the programme ‘clearly showed’ what you claim is therefore demonstrably untrue.

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