A large-scale volunteer programme is critical to the wellbeing of young people and the nation as a whole, former Cabinet Minister David Blunkett has said. It is needed to help address the enormous number of under-25s unable to find employment, as well as instilling values of responsibility and respect that were clearly absent among those involved in the riots this August.
Reiterating calls by newspaper columnists, educators, politicians and even His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Mr Blunkett has stated that we need to return to the concept of a properly funded, well-organised community based youth volunteer programme. A recent YouGov survey published in the Sunday Times revealed that such a proposal would have overwhelming support, finding that 77% would back ‘national citizen service’ – a compulsory period of community service for all young people.
Echoing Ed Milliband in his call to consider the deplorable principles of those involved in the riots, Mr Blunkett said: “It can be seen that a National Volunteer Programme has widespread support.
“It is clear that many young people in the areas affected by the riots are growing up with values that are incompatible with a fit and flourishing society.
“In the light of the disturbances, criminality and looting, it is now time to address the broader question of how we change values and attitudes fundamentally, so that mutuality and reciprocity come high on the public agenda.”
According to the most recent estimates, the jobless rate among 16 to 24-year-olds now stands at 949,000 (or 20.2%). It has been estimated that less than 1 in 10 of those dealt with by the courts in the first two weeks after the disturbances in August were in a job or education.
Mr Blunkett said: “we can see that low employment rates exacerbate a culture of no hope, where the power and image that comes from being part of a gang is a much more accessible and attractive offer than a job. A culture of dependency and victimhood prevails, and opportunities to escape are limited.”
Yet, noting some of the other major challenges Britain will face in the coming decades, Mr Blunkett argues that a National Volunteer Programme is also an opportunity to help us prepare to deal with these growing issues: “There is an enormous amount that can be done to provide a positive outlet and major gains for our society as a whole. Britain is facing significant challenges over the coming decades. With an ageing population, the Dilnot Enquiry showed that the cost of old age care is going to be a vast strain on our budget. Yet, this challenge will only grow as people live longer.
“We should see a National Volunteer Programme as not just an answer for those who participate, but also as part of the solution for these growing problems. Participants could volunteer in care homes, or assist with support in the homes of those needing help to enable older people to stay in their own home for longer.”
The National Volunteer Programme (NVP) would be assumed to be taken up by young people over the age of 16. For instance, young people could participate before going on to training or apprenticeship programmes, or between leaving school or college and going to university.
The programme would be on a nine month basis and would be geared to social, educational and environmental programmes that would aim to transform the community and provide confidence building, self esteem and new experiences for all young people. There would be a proper stipend for the participants and, where they were away from home, accommodation and food.
This would be in addition to the National Citizen Service. The experience gained on that six week programme would enable young people to choose which areas of the new full time programme they would wish to take up.
Whilst the programme is voluntary, Mr Blunkett would want to build in incentives designed to help young people in their future life. It would provide them with a passport that would have financial as well as other benefits accredited to it, which could be redeemed either in relation to university fees or for particular start up programmes for employment, continuing training or a deposit for accommodation.
Mr Blunkett’s blueprint has so far received positive feedback from leading organisations in the third sector, including the Prince’s Trust and The Outward Bound Trust.
Mr Blunkett has been researching and developing plans for a National Volunteer Programme for several years. Since 1997, he has served as Secretary of State for Education and Employment, with responsibility for the Millennium Volunteer Programme and the Citizenship curriculum; Home Secretary, with responsibility for citizenship and voluntary action; and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with responsibility for Job Centre Plus and programmes for the employment of young people.