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Kevin Curley: While the young struggle for jobs, we should not be a part of the problem

Charities appear to be using the high level of unemployment to get free labour, writes our columnist

 Kevin Curley
Kevin Curley

As 2014 gets under way, some young people are having a wretched time. My friend's son left school in Sunderland four years ago and since then has had only casual jobs. Last November, he finally got a permanent job doing shift work with a social care charity. He works unsocial hours, 35 each week, on the minimum wage. After paying his bills he has just £10 a week left for clothes, toiletries, enjoying himself - a reasonable expectation for someone aged 20 - and unexpected costs.

Surely we can do better than this. Charities should support the Living Wage Foundation and pay young people the living wage as a minimum - in Sunderland that's only £7.65 an hour. If a public services contract is so badly funded that you cannot pay people a wage that enables them to live decently, walk away from it.

While on the subject of young people, the Prince's Trust told us this month that 27 per cent of those who fail to get five A to C grades at GCSE always or often feel ashamed, and 37 per cent often feel hopeless and believe they have no talent.

Here's a challenge to us as individuals and charity leaders: many more of us could offer our services to a mentoring scheme such as the one run by CSV to help young people in care, given that 12 per cent of care leavers have five A to C grades at GCSE and 45 per cent have mental health issues. Their scheme asks people to volunteer for just two hours each week to mentor someone. We could also offer an apprenticeship or volunteering placement to at least one young person with poor exam results, giving them an opportunity to learn and grow in our charities.

Graduates from higher education will face a tough job market in 2014. One in 10 graduates is out of work after six months and opportunities have shrunk by 4 per cent over the past year, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters. Against this backdrop, many charities are offering full-time unpaid internships. Charities appear to be using the high level of unemployment to get free labour, drawn from the limited pool of young people who can afford to work for nothing. I can see the case for short-term or part-time unpaid internships, where they provide real benefit for the individual as well as the organisation, but full-time work should attract a living wage.

I like the attitude of Sue Dovey, chief executive of Community Action Hampshire. She has no time for internships: "People are either volunteers, with all the caveats that go with volunteering, or they are paid staff." Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, takes a similar approach: "We don't have interns. We have a trainee grade that is paid and includes training and development."

It would be good to see the NCVO, Navca and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services working together to offer guidance on how to help young people and avoid the worst aspects of internships.

Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser

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