Charities react to Conservative Party’s volunteering ‘national service’ proposal

28 May 2024 News

By Elroi/Adobe

The charity sector has responded to the Conservative Party’s plan to require 18-year-olds take part in a form of “national service” if the party wins the general election on 4 July.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said the scheme would mean 18-year-olds can choose to take part in community volunteering or military training.

Community volunteering would include one weekend every month, 25 days over a 12-month period, with organisations such as the NHS, fire service, ambulance, search and rescue, and critical local infrastructure.

The proposals have raised concerns from those in the charity sector and outside, with Labour leader Keir Starmer dubbing the policy “a sort of teenage Dad’s Army”.

NCVO chief executive Sarah Vibert said the organisation “would have valued the opportunity to feed into this proposal” while UK Youth CEO Ndidi Okezie said investment would be key.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund closure

The Conservative Party said the national service plans would see £1.5bn diverted from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) from 2028. It currently has funding until 2025.

A further £1bn would come from plans to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion, it said.

The proposal reads: “We will extend the UKSPF for three years. During this time, it will be allocated across the union on the same basis as before. 

“From 2028-29 onwards, the UKSPF will be diverted into national service and the royal commission will be tasked with ensuring an equitable spread of spending across the UK.”

Charity sector reaction

Vibert said: “As the National Council of Voluntary Organisations we would have valued the opportunity to feed into this proposal to ensure the needs of charities and volunteers were reflected.

“We will continue to review the outline plans and offer more detailed thoughts in the coming days. 

“While we’d welcome a scheme that enabled greater access for more young people to volunteer, we think mandating participation could prevent some from building a lifelong love of community action.

“Social inequality is preventing many children across the country from achieving their full potential. 

“We must build an environment where young people from all backgrounds thrive and are encouraged, not forced, to support communities and causes that matter to them.”

Okezie said: “Many countries have successful national service programmes, but they have built infrastructure around the experience, ensuring it is an integrated stage in a young person’s life.

“The core issue we face is the lack of sustained investment to supporting youth development.

“As a society, we should ensure all young people have access to quality developmental experiences and professional support to help them navigate each stage of life.

“This is where youth work plays a crucial role, but millions of young people still lack access to the quality youth work support they need.

“Regardless of the specific programmes we may create, let us not get distracted by the discussion of them.

“What is more crucial is that we address the systemic gap in youth support, if we are to truly set up all young people to thrive.

“By focusing on providing consistent, high-quality youth development provision, we can create a society that nurtures its young people and helps them reach their full potential.”

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