More than a quarter of staff members that work for MPs and peers in Westminster got their job through personal connections, a new report has revealed.
Almost a third (31 per cent) of Westminster staffers completed unpaid work and a fifth (19 per cent) of these placements lasted longer than six months, research from Sutton Trust shows.
Only half (51 per cent) of these employees found their role through an advert – and more than a quarter (26 per cent) found their job through a personal connection, the report says.
Conservatives were more likely than Labour to have been offered their post through a personal connection (29 per cent to 20 per cent), the research for the social mobility charity finds.
The report highlights that people working in the offices of MPs and peers “form the backbone which runs parliament” and many go on to work in prominent roles in politics, policy and public affairs.
It warns that unpaid internships and the use of personal networks “lock out young people from low and middle-income backgrounds” who lack the wealth or connections to get into the profession.
The research, based on surveys of graduates, employers and members of staff in MPs and peers’ offices, also reveals that a quarter of all graduates (26 per cent) have done an unpaid internship.
In prestigious industries, such as media and the arts - including fashion, theatre and TV - up to 86 per cent of internships on offer are unpaid.
And graduate internships appear to be on the rise, the research finds, with 46 per cent of 21-23 year olds having done one, compared to 37 per cent of 27-29 year olds.
Younger graduates are also more likely to have taken on more than one internship. According to the report, there are around 100,000 interns working in Britain every year, with around 58,000 unpaid.
Commenting on the figures revealing that a quarter of Westminster employees secured their job through personal connections, Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “This prevents young people without the same networks from accessing jobs and getting the experience they need.
“This is a major social mobility issue. To address it, job selection in Westminster should be based solely on merit.”
The charity is calling for all internships longer than one month to be paid at least the national minimum wage of £7.05 for 21 to 24-year-olds, and ideally the Living Wage of £9 per hour.
Sir Peter added: “Outlawing the exclusionary practice of unpaid internships is a good place to start. We also need fair and transparent recruitment practices. Internship positions should be advertised publicly, rather than filled informally.”
The report has been published on the same day a bill to ban unpaid internships over four weeks in length is brought to the House of Commons.
In an open letter published on Friday, Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond has called on the Government to end the scandal of unpaid internships.
He writes: “One of the most pernicious ways in which the advantages of the fortunate few are entrenched is through the illegal yet widespread practice of unpaid internships.
“Inevitably and obviously only those who can afford to work free are able to access these opportunities which in turn lead to paid jobs and ultimately careers in areas such as journalism, fashion and, most shockingly, politics.”