The Hansard Society has come under fire from the TUC after it emerged that the politics charity is charging undergraduates £8000 for internships as part of a “scholarship” programme.
A number of prestigious placements at political bodies are only available through Hansard’s expensive programme.
TUC policy adviser, Peter Sellers, condemned the organisation for presenting the opportunity to an exclusive group of young adults. “People should be paid to do jobs, not unpaid.” Sellers said. “You shouldn’t have to pay a fee to access work. If you have to pay a toll of £8000 in order to get a very desirable internship, that’s going to exclude a lot of people in the UK who come from poorer backgrounds.”
The Hansard Society is a registered charity, which has in the past year received support from BBC Parliament, the Cabinet Office, Speaker of the House, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Microsoft, Ministry of Justice, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.
The Hansard Society describes itself as “The UK’s leading independent, non-partisan political research and education charity”, claiming its aim is to “strengthen parliamentary democracy and encourage greater public involvement in politics.”
Gail Bumbury, programme manager of the scholarship, and manager of the Study and Scholars department at Hansard Society said: “I wouldn’t say the scholarship is geared towards working class people per se. It’s aimed at foreign students who want to learn more about British politics”. When asked if the opportunity was limited to international students alone, Bumbury replied: “No. It is open to anyone who decides to apply”.
Although the scholarship programme may be beneficial to some international students, it is thought to be less of an opportunity to those from minority ethnic backgrounds who identify as British citizens.
“One worry is that because, on average, minorities are over represented among the less well-off such measures are going to be indirectly discriminatory” said Sellers.
A number of high profile politicians hold influence within the Hansard Society, with David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and Ed Miliband all acting as Vice Presidents. Speaker of the House, John Bercow, also holds a place, acting as one of two Co-Presidents. Vice Chairs of the party include Health secretary Andrew Lansley.
Owen Williams, Communications adviser at the House of Lords Press Office denied any link between the government and Hansard, insisting that the Hansard Society’s relationship with both the Government and Parliament generally was no different to that of any other charity “such as Oxfam”.
Williams asserts that government departments funding the charity have no responsibility to put pressure on the organisation to scrap the £8000 internship charge. He said: “Hansard is only political and has nothing to do with parliament. It’s a charity, that’s what you need to understand. The government has no control over it; we are not responsible for Hansard, what they do is entirely for them to answer to” Williams said.
Currently, Parliament itself does not offer internships outside of the Hansard programme.
A spokesperson from the Parliamentary Press Office insisted that there are credible alternatives offered by Parliament for those who have graduated, such as the Civil Service “Fast stream” by which graduates are recruited from universities before undergoing various tests. The scheme has been in practice for many years, but has never been advertised as a social mobility exercise. Applicants must have a first level degree to put themselves forward for the examinations.
The revelations have come at a time when the validity of interning is being increasingly called into question, with some arguing that internships are exploitative. Westminster secretaries for Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, and David Cameron, refused to comment.
A spokesman for Hansard Society, who did not want to be named, made it clear that they have no plans to lower the price of the scholarship, or offer a bursary to first-year university students who do not have the money to apply. The spokesperson said: “It is not possible for Hansard, as a chargee, to pay a salary for internships.”