Cameron’s “National Service” won’t serve anyone

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.

3 thoughts on “Cameron’s “National Service” won’t serve anyone”

  1. Posted 09/04/2010 at 12:32 | Permalink

    Good post! The NCS is just another social engineering project, based on a naive constructivism. If the Conservatives were serious about the ‘Big Society’, they would have to get serious about devolving power, and put up with a lot of local projects done in ways they disapprove of.
    Having said that: I have done 10 months of compulsory national service, and since it wasn’t very challenging, I started reading Friedman and Mises to fill the time…

  2. Posted 09/04/2010 at 13:53 | Permalink

    The proposals seem a bit vague as they stand. For example, will participation be compulsory and, if not, how will the aim to involve all sixteen year olds be fulfilled? Perhaps ‘nudging’ will be used to encourage involvement, but what will be the sanctions for those naughty teenagers who refuse to join ‘Cameron Youth’?

    Then there is the cost issue. Putting, say, 700,000 teenagers a year on a two-month supervised residential programme is surely going to cost several billion. Has Cameron forgotten about the budget deficit?

    Finally, the question of where to site the conditioning camps may cause problems with the Tory grassroots. Residents of rural areas in particular will not want hundreds of inner city teenagers, many of them muggers, burglars and problem drug users etc., on their doorstep.

  3. Posted 11/04/2010 at 19:58 | Permalink

    The points here are all well-made, but what needs answering is whether this initiative is the start of something much bigger or all there is. We cannot expect the Tories to take a ‘big bang’ approach to reform, but they have to start somewhere. The problems that Ruth point to have taken a generation to develop and we should not expect a quick solution but rather steady incremental change which slowly alters incentives and hence behaviour. To expect anything more is politically naive.

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