A funny and vicious cycle of inequality persists. To be able to find paid work, one needs work experience, but to gain work experience one apparently needs to be middle class, so one can afford to work for free


I would like to share a story with you, my fellow readers. I am not asking you to take out your violins at what I’m about to relate nor am I asking you to be pitying. However, what I am asking of you is to share my story and empathise with it. Although, I stand alone in my room as I write this article, I know that I am not alone, and that others also share my experience, my disappointment, my anguish and my sorrow.

I am a recent graduate and upon my graduation I decided I wanted to embark on a career within the NGO/charity sector. Previously, I was unaware of the inequalities such sectors breed and fuel. I have always passionately wanted to help others and for me I believed I could do this by embarking on a career within the aforementioned area. To my surprise, I no longer believe such a dream will ever be fulfilled. In as much as I have the knowledge and qualifications needed to potentially excel, like many others I lack real hands-on experience.

You may wonder where exactly I am going with this story, but please be patient I will finally get to the point! For months I have been searching for opportunities but unfortunately the majority of them tend to be unpaid. When I say majority, I am in fact trying to be diplomatic, because 99 per cent of entry-level vacancies within the NGO/charity sector, which I have come across, are unpaid.

I believed the aim of NGO/charity jobs was to end inequality and to fight for and achieve equality for those vulnerable and marginalised in society. Ironically, although that is what they claim to represent, in reality, gaining experience within such sectors through internships and work experience only appeals to, or alternatively phrased, is only suitable for those who have economic security—in this case, primarily the middle class. Working-class people, like myself are therefore cut off from such opportunities because they simply cannot afford to volunteer, and like many others I am in the wrong class. Inequality has no limits; as much as I am educated, I am eager and willing to learn and gain experience, I just cannot afford to pursue my dreams.

I would like to share a recent experience I had with Unicef UK. I was delighted to finally see an internship opportunity advertised on Unicef UK’s internship page and I thought it was the break I was longing for. As I began to read the role profile, I realised that in fact despite claiming this opportunity to be an internship on the official page, the role profile referred to the opportunity as a ‘voluntary internship’, which to be fair is not a problem. I then went on to read the hours of work. It stated: ‘Monday to Friday, 9.30am -5.30pm. Some flexibility can be offered when required’.

I have to say, it was only once I was filling in the application form, that it dawned on me that this role was not suitable for me. Due to the ambiguous nature of the hours of work stated, I decided to call Unicef UK just to confirm that the opportunity was a 6-month unpaid internship. To my disbelief, my fear was confirmed. I immediately had to abandon my application because I could not afford to volunteer full-time for 6 months. I saw this opportunity as a potentially life-changing and career-enriching chance and I viewed it as a window for me to gain invaluable work experience. But once again, I belonged to the wrong class. Internships like this do not cater for those less fortunate yet extremely willing. And this angers and frustrates me.

Although such organisations support a good cause, help to raise awareness and help those most vulnerable and excluded in society by trying to end inequality, they also, in fact, drive and fuel that very same inequality. The above mentioned vacancy is clear evidence of the way in which the NGO/charity sector organisations perpetuate inequality. The very thing they claim to want to end, they in fact produce.

During my conversation with a Unicef UK member of staff I highlighted that the opportunity advertised discourages those from the lower sections of society from applying, and that it is more suitable to those of the middle class or those who have economic capital. I was however reassured that travel expenses and lunch would be reimbursed; but Unicef, are you not just missing the point? If it was only lunch and travel expenses which made the world go round, I would not have raised this issue.

And this is a serious issue, and it needs to be addressed. Organisations which claim to support equality, need to support it across all spectrums. In order for me to find paid employment within the NGO/charity sector, I need experience and evidently I, and many others like me and in my position cannot afford to gain such work experience. And as a result we are inadvertently cut off from such opportunities and forced to abandon our dreams.

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