Cancer Research UK today announced that from June 2018 all its internships will be paid – making it one of the first major UK charities to abolish unpaid internships.

“This is a complex issue but we felt it was the right time to tackle it. It is not right that those who can’t afford to intern unpaid should be excluded from gaining essential experience in an organisation like Cancer Research UK.” – Sir Harpal Kumar

The move comes as 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 and contribute to their full potential.

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’s paid internship programme will 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.

Sir Harpal Kumar, CEO of Cancer Research UK, said: “This is a complex issue but we felt it was the right time to tackle it. It is not right that those who can’t afford to intern unpaid should be excluded from gaining essential experience in an organisation like Cancer Research UK.

“Cancer Research UK’s priority is to put as much money as possible towards our goal to beat cancer sooner. However, there are some costs that we cannot and should not avoid. That includes paying all our staff a fair wage for their contribution to Cancer Research UK’s progress and future.

“We are now drawing a clear distinction between our thousands of volunteers, who give their time altruistically, and our interns, who are keen to start their careers in the charity sector.

“However, as one of the first big charities to make such a move, we will continue to listen carefully to feedback from interns, volunteers, other staff and supporters.

“Our internship programme has consistently been recognised as one of the top schemes in the country and I’m sure it will continue to be regarded highly within the sector and beyond. We look forward to welcoming our first wave of paid interns into the charity this Summer. It is more important than ever for the public to feel they can trust big charities to operate to the highest standards.”

Sarah Jepson-Jones, Head of Talent and Leadership Development at Cancer Research UK, said: “We’ve taken time to consider the negative impact of unpaid internships. We’ve also had to think about them alongside volunteering roles, so we’ve created a checklist to make the difference clear, taking into account the nature and duration of the role, and the motivation of the person doing it.

“We want to be the employer of choice for talented individuals early in their careers. We are committed to removing barriers to entry that may disadvantage people from a range of different backgrounds.”

Tanya de Grunwald, founder of UK careers blog Graduate Fog, which campaigns for fair internships, said: “This is a huge step forward for Cancer Research UK, people who’d love to work there, and the charity sector as a whole.

“Somewhere along the line, true volunteering and junior charity jobs became conflated, with neither being paid. Disentangling them now is not easy – but there is a difference and it’s important to be clear about it. Volunteers don’t want to be paid; interns will be grateful for the wages they need and deserve. I applaud Cancer Research UK for grasping the nettle. It’s sticky, time-consuming work and nobody likes to admit they need to correct something like this. But in this day and age that’s what leadership looks like.

“Now Cancer Research UK has provided a template it will be easier for other big charities to follow suit.”


  • The first Cancer Research UK paid internships will begin in June 2018. Applications for this intake will open in April. 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: (
  • Cancer Research UK interns will be paid the National Living Wage. Those based in London will receive a London weighting allowance of £3,750 pro-rata’d for the duration of their internship. This equates to a total payment of approximately £4,153 for a London-based 12 week internship. Previously, interns received travel and lunch expenses
  • Applicants must be aged 18 years old and have the right to live and work in the UK
  • Internships are available across the charity, typically for a duration of 12 weeks although needs of the business may vary
  • Paid internships will take place across the organisational departments, including Fundraising & Marketing, Events, Corporate Partnerships, Policy and Information, Science Communications  
  • Paid internships will be based in London, supporting head office teams, or regionally, supporting our teams across the country
  • Cancer Research UK has created a table to help managers differentiate between volunteers and interns
  • Cancer Research UK expects to hire between 70-100 paid interns between April 2018 and April 2019. While this is a slight decrease on previous years – reflecting the increased cost – the quality and value of the opportunities will increase, both for the charity and the interns who do them. Fair internship campaigners have advised Cancer Research UK this is a beneficial trade-off
  • From April, the charity plans to improve the career progression path from our internships to permanent roles within the organisation
  • This updated policy on internships is part of a broader EDI initiative being rolled out at Cancer Research UK from 2018 and beyond