Paid Internships

From June 2018 all internships at Cancer Research UK will be paid – making it one of the first major UK charities to abolish unpaid internships. 

This updated policy on internships is part of a broader drive to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within Cancer Research UK.  The charity is committed to creating an inclusive culture where everyone is able to reach their full potential.

Why is Cancer Research UK paying its interns now?

The National Minimum Wage law allows charities to have unpaid interns, but the sector has faced criticism that the practice takes advantage of those wanting to start their career in the Third Sector, and is a barrier to those unable to work for free.

Cancer Research UK has realised that its previous approach to internships – paying travel and lunch expenses – wasn’t as fair as it could have been. We recognised that those who couldn’t afford to work for free were locked out of the opportunity to gain essential experience with us, and as a result we weren’t getting the diversity of talent that the organisation needs in order to continue to do great work now and in the future. We’ve taken advice from fair internships campaigners and we’re confident that these changes will improve the situation for everyone.

We believe this is the right thing to do, and as one of the country’s largest charities, we’re in a good position to make the move. Fair internships campaigners explained that the first big private sector firms who were vocal about paying their interns played a crucial role in creating the ‘ripple effect’ that means most big companies now pay their interns. We hope we can echo that in the Third Sector. We hope that sharing our workings publicly will make it easier for other charities to make the same change if they want to.

How will the paid internships scheme work?

Cancer Research UK’s paid internship programme typically last for 12 weeks and will give school leavers (aged over 18), undergraduates, graduates and career changers an opportunity to develop their skills and gain work experience. 

The internship programme will give successful applicants – who are looking to start their career in the sector – a unique insight into working for a charity, whilst playing their part in the fight against cancer.  Paid internships will take place across a wide range of organisational departments. 

Paid internships will be based in London, supporting head office teams, or regionally, supporting our teams across the country.

What happens at the end of a paid internship?

We really don’t want to be one of those organisations that runs a ‘revolving door’ internship system, where one group is simply replaced by the next, and nobody ends up with a proper job. We want people to use their internship with us as a springboard into a permanent job, and a long career in the Third Sector.

Those who finish their paid internship will be given clear advice and guidance on what to do next, will receive support around CV and interview preparation and will be actively encouraged to apply for permanent positions if suitable ones are available. We are keen that internships can be a career path into a role at Cancer Research UK and will be working with internal stakeholders to identify the best way to do this as we strengthen our internship approach.

How will the paid internship scheme be funded?

The paid internship programme will be funded by each department’s existing budget. Managers will be helped to make savings elsewhere if necessary. We guarantee that no less money will go towards beating cancer, as a result of this change.

Cancer Research UK expects to hire between 60-90 paid interns between April 2018 and April 2019. While this is a slight decrease on previous years – reflecting the increased cost – we expect the quality and value of the opportunities to also increase, both for the charity and the interns who do them. Fair internship campaigners have advised us this is what typically happens when internships are paid and we feel this will be a beneficial trade-off.

How much will interns be paid?

From June 2018, all internships at Cancer Research UK will be paid the National Living Wage, plus our London allowance where relevant. This equates to a total payment of approximately £4,153 for a London based 12 week internship. Previously, interns received travel and lunch expenses.

Applications for this intake will open in April 2018. Applicants will need to complete an application form for the stream they want to apply for which consists of competency based questions and motivations for applying. Opportunities will be advertised on Cancer Research UK’s job site here: (

What is the difference between a volunteer and an intern?

We are now drawing a clear distinction between our thousands of volunteers who give their time altruistically and interns, who are keen to start their career in the charity sector. We have created a checklist to help managers and applicants differentiate between volunteers and interns, taking into account the nature and duration of the role, and the motivation of the person doing it.

We are really keen to ensure that our volunteers continue to feel valued for the significant contribution that they make so we tested our proposal with the Cancer Research UK Volunteer Representative Forum who confirmed their support for this change. They confirmed that as volunteers they want to give their time voluntarily and do so on a part-time basis. They understand that our interns fit a very different profile and it is right that they receive a wage for their work.

What other EDI initiatives are you spearheading?

We are looking to create an inclusive culture and a diverse workforce where everyone is able to be themselves and to reach their full potential.  Our strategy includes recruitment, training and policy changes.

For example, we will shortly introduce a refreshed EDI policy that is more proactively focused; we also have a stated commitment to EDI in our job adverts. We are in the process of developing an EDI Champions Group and a range of staff networks as well as implementing a calendar of cultural events to support our EDI programme. A range of other changes are in development and we are considering how we might best use positive action to create change.