WHAT if you’d worked solidly for the last 40 hours with people you didn’t know in an unfamiliar office in a town far from home for nothing?

Figures were released last week that said over a third of young people out of work, training or education have considered suicide with over a quarter admitting they had self-harmed in one way or another claiming they have nothing to live for.

And with many young people being forced to take up unpaid internships, with no guarantee of a contract afterwards, who could blame them?

The job market’s saturated, you can’t afford to go back to college and there are no training programmes for the career you so desperately want to forge.

Employment relations minister, Jo Swinson, said: “Internships can provide an important first step and are often a valuable way of helping young people start work. They should be open to everyone in a fair and transparent way.”

Fair to who? You might ask.

It seems the government is only just waking up to the concept while large companies have skimmed the cream of the unemployed sector and lapped up the profits by conserving wages.

Gus Baker, co-director of Intern Aware, has been campaigning against this issue since 2010.

“The law says if you are personally providing services for a company, as opposed to work experience, and make real work contributions to the organisation then you are entitled to minimum wage,” he said. “Being able to afford to work for free is very difficult.”

Georgina Laming, 21, of Shirley, took several unpaid internships in her quest to find a job in reporting, some lasting only a few weeks, another lasting a year.

She called it quits after she became so ill working part-time to earn enough money to keep going that her 70 hour working weeks resulted in being prescribed antidepressants.

“The mental strain of being treated badly and worrying about how to pay rent whilst working for free really impacts you,” she said. “It did for me for a really long time. I don't have loaded parents to fall back on. It took me a long time to recover and working waitressing jobs to pay for the privilege of working for free just felt wrong.

“I felt like I wasn't worth anything because publications weren't paying me for copy. Then I realised that they were publishing my work and not giving me credit.”

But for Martha Flynn, 22, a former Peter Symonds student, it’s a means of bettering herself in the job market to become more competitive against her 2.39m unemployed rivals.

The third year Leeds University student from Bereweeke has been volunteering since she was 18.

“I'd really like to work in the charity sector or international development, both of which have incredibly competitive job markets, so experience working within charities is essential,” she said. “I would go as far as to say that the volunteering that I have done this summer for Community Action Hampshire may prove to be the difference between me getting a job post-uni or not.

“In fact, now that internships are demanding more and more from their prospective candidates, I’d say that volunteering is now almost essential to getting the internships that get you into a paid position later on. For me, it's all about adapting to the changes that I perceive in the job market.”

James Peckham, 21, from Totton, has recently completed a six-week unpaid internship with Winchester Action on Climate Change (WinACC). There is no question that WinACC, a charity, has exploited anyone.

He said: “I’m still quite young so I can run up a certain amount of debt while I know I’m trying to get to where I want to be. I know some people who wouldn’t be able to do this. Money comes first of course but the market’s just so stretched.

“I know people who have done internships for as long as six months and have nothing to show for it. I’ve seen some advertised in London lasting six-12 months before they even consider paying you.”

The law does seem to be slowly responding and action groups, such as Intern Aware, are fighting their corner to make sure unpaid interns stop getting overlooked.

Jo Swinson added: “Not paying the national minimum wage is illegal and if an employer breaks the law, government will take tough action. Anyone considered a worker under the law should be paid at least the minimum wage, whether they are an intern, or someone on work experience.”

Miss Laming said: “The government definitely needs to do more. It's trying but they never seem to get that volunteering and working for free are different things. It's about changing a culture. It will take a long time but I'm prepared to keep fighting on it.”