Cameron’s “National Service” plans are not the answer to youth social problems.
The Conservatives’ “Broken Britain” narrative rightly diagnoses that “… too many of our young people appear lost. Their lives lack shape or any sense of direction. So they take out their frustrations and boredom on the world around them. They get involved with gangs. They smash up the neighbourhood. They turn to drink and drugs.”
But many of our young people don’t fall into this category; they are part of functioning, vibrant communities. The key question is how to help those who are struggling without damaging in the process those who don’t need help. Rolling out a national programme like this is an ineffectual way of trying to tackle societal issues. For the young people who are thriving, trying to replace the communities and traditions that are already working perfectly well with a uniform country-wide “rite of passage” is not only unnecessary, but also serves to send a message that the good work being done by families isn’t good enough. This costly scheme could well undermine the diverse and complex fabric of society.
For those young people who do need intervention, allowing local communities (families and community organisations) to deal with the unique issues faced in their local context in their own distinctive ways is the best way of addressing this.
It would be wonderful if the answer to gang violence, addiction and youth dysfunction in general was as simple as a two-month national programme, but people are messier than that and the solutions must be too.