With youth unemployment on the increase again, many young people desperate for a job see unpaid internships as their best chance of getting experience of work.
But research published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) this weekend suggests that almost four in five (78 per cent) 18-34 year olds could not afford to live in London away from home to become even an unpaid intern.
The polling - undertaken recently for Unions21 by Survation - is released today as young trade unionists meet at TUC headquarters in central London for its annual young members' conference.
Unpaid internships is just one of the issues of major concern to young people that will be debated at the two-day event. Also high on the agenda this weekend will be youth unemployment, affordable housing and living standards.
Many of the UK's most sought after internships are to be found in the capital within its many film, television and media companies. But with the cost of living in London away from home now in excess of £1,000 a month, this is something that only young people from affluent families can even begin to consider, says the TUC.
When asked if they could afford to live away from home in London to take up an unpaid internship, only just over one in ten (12 per cent) of the 18-34 year olds questioned said they either definitely or probably had the money to be able to do so.
Over three in five (61 per cent) definitely did not have the means to live away from home in the capital to take up unpaid work, and a further 16 per cent said they probably wouldn't be able to afford it.
The pollsters also asked family members about the affordability of internships for their younger relatives. Eighty five per cent of those questioned said that no-one in their family would have the resources to live away from home in the capital for work that was not paid.
Fewer than one in six (15 per cent) thought that an unpaid internship was either definitely, probably or maybe a viable option for the youngsters in their family.
Speaking at the conference on Saturday 23 March, TUC Assistant General Secretary Kay Carberry said: "This week unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds nudged towards the million mark again. With many youngsters finding it impossible to even get interviews for jobs, their lack of work experience means that they are losing out to older job hunters with more experience.
"Of course, internships can be a good thing - young people can get valuable experience and a route into a career - but all too often internships are about exploitation, staff being undercut, and employers benefiting from a huge pool of cheap and willing labour.
"The NUS says that a fifth of young people have done unpaid internships. But as this polling suggests there are few who can afford to work for nothing or for a pittance for any length of time. Internships are essentially a finishing school for the upper middle class - with exclusive access to key contacts, networks and opportunities in the top professions. That's unfair and it's bad for social mobility."
Commenting on the polling, Co-Director of Intern Aware Gus Baker said: "These shocking statistics show that a generation is being let down by unpaid internships.
"With overwhelming majorities of young people not able to afford to work for free, the government needs to take real action now to enforce the national minimum wage law and make sure interns are paid."
* The TUC young members' conference is takeing place on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 March 2013 at Congress House in London.
* This week there is a national week of action against mandatory unpaid work placements introduced by the government (workfare).