Conservative plans for National Citizen Service grab attention

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

The most eye-catching initiative for the voluntary sector in the first week of the election campaign was the Conservative Party's plan for a National Citizen Service. This would give all 16-year-olds the chance to spend a week away doing challenging physical activities, and another seven weeks on local community service projects they would help to devise.

Many young people already do comparable things in the form of school trips, Duke of Edinburgh's Award schemes and volunteering projects in the gap year between school and university. Despite initial reluctance, many gain confidence, social skills and maturity. The model is sound and tested.

The difference here is that the young people would not be entirely in the familiar company of friends and classmates, but would be mixed with others from their home areas with all sorts of different backgrounds. That would take them out of their comfort zone, widen their horizons and open their eyes to the experience of people who are unlike them. The potential gains in social awareness and understanding are considerable.

It would not be compulsory. That, as David Cameron said when he introduced it, would be "the kiss of death". But he also said it was modelled on national service, and of course the essential aspect of that - the thing that made it beneficial in many ways - was that people had no choice. The challenge for the proposed NCS would be to get everyone involved - the well-off or well-motivated groups who already do this kind of thing, and the hard-to-reach groups, who might view it with cynical suspicion.

From Operation Raleigh to Catch22, the relevant parts of the voluntary sector are already signed up - how could they not be? A note of caution can be detected in the wording of some of their supporting statements, but there is a potential opportunity here for them to take forward their mission to help young people become better citizens.

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