The government’s spending on the National Citizen Service programme for 15 to 17-year-olds is "excessive" and the scheme should be repurposed to focus on providing quality work placements, according to a government commission.
The Social Mobility Commission, led by former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn, last week published its report State of the Nation 2016: Social Mobility in Great Britain, which concluded that the youth programme should be repurposed to provide an "opportunity fund" that would enable young people aged between 14 and 18 years to have access to quality work experience or extracurricular activity.
The NCS was introduced by the coalition government to encourage young people to develop leadership and teamwork skills, and become involved in community work.
In its 2015 spending review, the government said it hoped to have 60 per cent of 16 year olds take part in the programme by 2021 and allocated £1.2bn to the scheme. In this year’s Queen’s Speech, it was announced that a National Citizen Service Bill would be introduced to place the programme on a statutory footing. The bill is currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords.
But the scheme has been criticised for missing its participation targets. Out of the 80,000 places offered in 2014/15, only 58,000 were filled.
Last month, the National Audit Office said it would conduct an enquiry into whether the scheme provided value for money.
The Social Mobility Commission report says: "The extent of expansion proposed first in the 2015 spending review, and confirmed and extended in the Queen’s Speech of 2016, do not reflect the strength of evidence for the programme, particularly when there are such significant wider gaps in the support given to young people.
"When there is little careers advice to speak of, quality work experience is a rarity and children from different backgrounds and in different parts of the country are being prepared for the world beyond school in such different ways, the spending on NCS appears to be both excessive and unproven."
A spokeswoman for the NCS said: "We are proud that the NCS reaches disproportionately into the most disadvantaged communities: compared with national averages, the programme has a higher proportion of young people who are eligible for free school meals, who live in the most deprived local authority areas and who are from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The work the NCS does to promote social mobility was cited this year in the House of Lord's Select Committee on Social Mobility report, as well as the final report of the Universities UK Social Mobility Advisory Group."