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Cath Everett

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Work placements should be more accessible, says Clegg


Nick Clegg will urge employers to sign up to a “business compact” today in order to open up work placements beyond those young people who are “sharp-elbowed and well connected”.

The Deputy Prime Minister will make the call as part of his social mobility strategy, which is due to be published this morning. The national internship scheme will ask companies to pay young people undertaking work experience, warning that if they fail to do so, they could risk a legal challenge under national minimum wage legislation.

People will also be encouraged to blow the whistle if they see unpaid internships taking place. The scheme will likewise encourage participants to use name-blank and school-blank applications to promote the hiring of those without social connections.

Clegg will say: “For too long, internships have been the almost exclusive preserve of the sharp-elbowed and well-connected. Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities.”

The aim, however, is to create a fair job market based on “merit not networks”. “It should be about what you know, not who you know. A country that is socially mobile based opportunity on your ability and drive, not on who your father’s friends are”, Clegg will add.

Legal firm Allen & Overy, media groups Channel 4 and the Guardian, management consultancies PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG and the Royal Institute of British Architects have already signed up to the business compact, under which they have committed to ensure fair access to internships. They have also agreed to pay either the minimum wage or “reasonable out-of-pocket expenses”.

Conservative Party chair Lady Warsi will likewise announce that Whitehall plans to put an end to informal work placements by the end of 2012 in a bid to attract candidates from a wider range of social backgrounds. All vacancies will be advertised on the central civil service web site from that time.

To measure the success of its policies, the coalition government will introduce an annual “report card” to assess whether it is improving people’s life chances. To this end, seven “life chance indicators” will be measured throughout an individual’s life, including their birth weight, career success and earnings at the age of 30, to see whether the link between social class and achievement is being broken.

Ministers will pledge to publish an annual report charting progress on each of the measures and to take action where improvement is slow.

Research shows that in the UK, the influence of parental income on the earnings of their children is among the highest in the OECD, having one and a half times the impact on male workers’ salaries than their counterparts in Canada, Germany or Sweden.