Occupation: Intern at a media start-up
Salary: £10.00 p/h (£1.6k per month)
Rent: £400 p/m with bills
Over the summer, I was one of the lucky second years that was able to secure a paid, long-term internship in London. In a year where internship applications were particularly competitive, I secured my position by cold emailing, having been rejected by over 50 formal processes. A week after being offered my job, I moved to the city.
I went into 2020 with the explicit goal of saving up to move to London, and without this goal in mind from that point there is absolutely no way I could have afforded the move. I lived at home during Hilary, joined my remote college telethon, and took on two tutoring jobs, through which I was able to save up £1.1k. This is all of the money I had in savings at the start of the summer, and I poured all of it into moving, which gives you an idea of how expensive this process can get.
Besides taking on ways of increasing my income besides just getting a student loan, I was also very strict with my budget in Trinity. The reality of saving up to move for an internship is that there’s just no way that it’s going to happen overnight, and I tried to stay focused on that goal of moving even when I didn’t have a job secured.
Unsurprisingly, living in London on an intern’s salary is not very affordable. As I only finalised my job in week 10, with the expectation of starting the position a week after, I didn’t have time to hunt for a cheap sublet. I knew that if I was going to find one, it would need to be through the network of friends and acquaintances I have that already live in the city. By asking around, I was able to find a sublet for £400 p/m with bills included, in Haringey, a lesser known district in Zone 3 with great transport links.
I was lucky to get a deal like this, but if you have time on your side, your best bet is to find the houseshare Facebook group for the area you’re interested in. Short-term sublets through landlords (e.g. those listed on Rightmove) will often be priced at a sky-high premium, and are generally out of reach for the average intern, unless you’re working in a corporate sector.
Even though my rent was unusually good, I wasn’t prepared for exactly how expensive living in London actually is. Within offices, there’s often a culture of buying food and coffee out, and it’s difficult to turn down networking and bonding opportunities for the sake of saving money. On top of that, I racked up a huge amount of money on TfL, even with my railcard linked to my Oyster.
I was saved by some freelance invoices that I had paid during my time in London, which amounted to £510 across the two months I lived there, but there’s still a clear affordability issue with taking on an opportunity like this that prices out those that might not live in the city or be able to save the amount that I did. At the end of each month, I was at £0 in my account, without any savings to fall back on.
Low pay is a particular issue in the creative industries, where the prestige element of the job is used to justify underpaying those starting out. As of 2018, British Vogue was still not paying their regular rotation of 1-month interns at all.
Had I wanted to, I could have taken on a weekend job or a tutoring job to supplement my income – which many people have to do. But being an intern in a start-up is extremely tiring. I was already trying to fit my degree and freelance work (alongside running this very newspaper) around a job that sometimes saw me finish the day at 6.00pm, but sometimes much later.
Interning can very quickly become a recipe for burnout without the additional pressure of living on a salary that has you wondering whether it’s really worth it in the first place. The culture of interning in these prestigious jobs is one that is often facilitated by hidden wealth, and without more honesty around how people are able to make it work, things aren’t going to get any better.