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National Service: what the British youth needs

Updated: May 28

The Conservatives have released a new policy plan for 18-year-olds up and down the country to take part in a form of national service. People seem to be rather upset by this, and with no good reason. Rishi Sunak said the new scheme would instil a “shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country.” That is what the youth of today needs. If they aren’t in full time employment, university, or college, then, frankly, what are they doing? 

Youth crime is at perilous levels. Knife crime is rampant, alongside antisocial behaviour. In 2023, a survey found that 358,000 teenagers were physically injured in the last year in what was described as “shocking and unacceptable” levels of youth violence. Whilst there are many factors behind this, the most compelling is a distinct lack of purpose, focus, and pride for many of our young people. The provisions set out under the national service policy would change this. 

Contrary to what a cursory reading would indicate, national service would not force anyone to enter the military. 18-year-olds could choose community volunteering, in which they would spend one weekend a month volunteering for the NHS, the ambulance service, the fire service, or search and rescue missions. Conversely, they could apply for one of up to 30,000 “selective” military placements for the “brightest and the best” young people in areas such as logistics, cybersecurity, or procurement. If you aren’t going into work or further education, this seems wholly sensible both for yourself and the nation.

It is an anathema to me why so many people, across the political spectrum, are so vehemently opposed to this policy.  I think it is a wholeheartedly pragmatic response to the blights of our society and gives our young people a fair and equal opportunity to forge a meaningful stake in society. 

National service can promote social cohesion and a sense of common purpose to young people from a variety of backgrounds. By having a common, shared experience of service, the scheme could help bridge the ever-fragmenting gap between socioeconomic and cultural divides. Irrespective of your ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity, you can be a part of a united front with real purpose. Who could possibly think that this is a bad thing?

Social cohesion aside, the impact on the individual should not be understated. Young participants could gain invaluable skills, both practical and intellectual, by honing their abilities in teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving. The challenges and responsibilities imbued on young people by taking up national service can, and would, contribute to one’s personal growth, resilience, and sense of duty. I still can’t find a good reason to oppose this.

The benefits of such a plan are abundant. Nationally, the scheme would instil a sense of civic duty and a sense of belonging to public and community life, whilst bridging societal gaps. It would expose more young people to a variety of different national issues and showcase the importance and necessity of contributing to society. National service would strengthen our national security, in an increasingly belligerent international climate, whilst serving to address social issues and encourage inclusivity and diversity. This is an opportunity not currently available to all of this nation’s youth. 

Economically, those who undertake national service would gain necessary and transferable skills, potentially reducing youth unemployment and improving the overall quality and quantity of Britain’s national workforce. In addition, national service projects can contribute to the betterment of local economies through providing dedicated attention to infrastructure and community projects. It also would give so many young people a stake in society they so evidently feel they do not possess.

The scheme would be voluntary to the effect that no-one is going to jail for refusal. The £2.5bn estimated cost would be split between a repression on tax evasion and avoidance, and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Whilst this would mean a diversion of levelling up funds to this new scheme, which to me and my fellow West Midlanders is a big deal, it would mean that up and down the country, young people are invested in from all corners of our nation. That is levelling up in my books.

Most importantly, the empowerment of the individual across the nation, regardless of one’s socioeconomic status or identity, should be seen as a universal good. In a nation so obsessed with class and, increasingly, religion and ethnicity, I think to equalise our young people on the same level can only be a good thing. To entrust our young with meaningful, worthwhile tasks greater embeds a sense of duty and of one’s belonging and place within society. 

I see absolutely no reason why this scheme is ostensibly a bad idea. As I caveat most of my articles, I write not from a partisan position. The policy is objective and pragmatic. For all I care, Labour and the Lib Dems could take up this policy. Perhaps they should. 

My only amendment to the policy would be to exempt any 18-year-old in full time employment, enrolled on a university degree, or undertaking a vocational qualification. The real need is for those young people who are, in essence, non-starters, for whatever reason, who currently contribute nothing to society. Those who feel they have no stake in society would suddenly see the value of civic engagement. Those who feel divided against those of differing backgrounds would feel united. That is a necessity for our young people. 

Good times make weak people. Tough times make strong people. It is no secret we live in tough times. We only do ourselves and our young people a disservice if we allow them to remain weak in a world climate that so desperately requires them to be strong. National service can only serve to better the individual, the community, and the nation as a whole. It has my support. 

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