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Poll suggest privilege is key to landing internships

Survey carried out for Debrett’s Foundation finds that 72% of privileged young Britons admitted to having used family connections to secure a work placement

A privileged background, attending private school and who you know are key factors in landing an internship, according to a report that paints a bleak picture of social mobility in modern Britain.

A survey of 5,000 people carried out on behalf of the Debrett’s Foundation found that 72% of privileged young Britons admitted to having used family connections to secure a work placement and those who attended private schools were twice as likely to get internships in London compared to state educated children.

On average, people completed seven placements before getting a job, illustrating how important they have become in securing full-time employment and the potentially far-reaching consequences for those unable to land them.

Debrett’s chief executive Joanne Milner, said: “It’s normal human instinct to help those you’ve got connections with and that’s always had some sort of impact but within the last few years, with the growth of the way graduates get jobs through internships, it’s became much more important. I think people in Britain care about meritocracy but all the evidence is very bad – people who don’t have those connections are not getting on the career ladder. We’re actually going backwards.”

The survey, published on Monday, found that just under half of all young people from underprivileged backgrounds said they had not applied for placements away from home that they really wanted because their family could not afford the associated living and travel costs.

A quarter of young people felt that the system was not fair and significant minorities identified factors that should be irrelevant as, in their opinion, nevertheless proffering an advantage.

One in four believe a double-barrelled surname offered an advantage, one in five thought the type of school attended did, and one in six said that accent made a difference.

Debrett’s, known for its guides to etiquette and Britain’s most influential figures, launched the foundation last year. It runs a development programme established to deliver training and networks to academic achievers from less privileged backgrounds.

Milner said the subject was one close to her heart as she attended a comprehensive school and went back recently for a prize-giving at which she told current students that they could achieve what they wanted if they worked hard, only to feel afterwards that she may have inadvertently misled them.

She said that it would be foolish to expect – or try to stop – people helping their children but it was about giving others similar opportunities. “It’s about making sure it’s not preventing someone who hasn’t that privilege from competing,” she said. “We need to be careful we are not just discriminating against people from a privileged background.”

Opinium surveyed 3,000 people aged 16 to 25 and 2,000 aged 30 plus in November 2014 for the report. In classifying people as either privileged or underprivileged, it looked at their schooling and their socio-economic status.

One in 10 young people said they had completed 15 placements before getting the job they wanted. One in five were not paid anything and one in 10 only received travel and lunch expenses.

On average, people on work experience placements or internships take home £100 according to the survey but there was evidence that the gender pay gap starts early. Boys on average received £116 per week compared to £88 for girls – 32% more. Office of National Statistics figures published in November last year showed that men earn 9.4% more than women, the lowest gender gap since records began in 1997.

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