Do Britons want to bring back national service?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
September 04, 2023, 8:45 PM GMT+0

Young Britons are resistant to compulsory service schemes for the young

National service in Britain ended in the 1960s, but has faced occasional calls for its reinstatement ever since. In 2011, David Cameron launched the National Citizen Service, a shorter, voluntary, scheme that saw young people take part in community projects rather than military service, although participation has been limited.

Now a new YouGov survey explores what kind of national service – if any – Britons would support.

We put 12 different variations of a scheme to Britons, varying whether or not the scheme was compulsory; military or civilian (or both); and whether it lasted one month or one year.

The results show that Britons are more likely to support voluntary schemes than compulsory ones, and support community schemes more than military ones.

The scheme that most looks like the original national service – compulsory, military, and lasting a year* – comes bottom of the tables. Just 28% of Britons would support such a scheme, compared to 64% who would oppose it. A one month version is equally unpopular, at 29% and 62% respectively.

No compulsory scheme receives overall support among the public – the most popular is a one month, community-only scheme, but even this is divisive at 45% in favour and 45% opposed.

By contrast, all voluntary schemes are supported by a majority of Britons. The most popular is the month-long community service only scheme, at 72% (the year long equivalent is similarly popular, at 69%).

In 2021 in France, Emmanuel Macron instituted a new voluntary scheme which allows participants to spend a month in either military or community settings. The variation from our survey which matches this would be supported by 64% of Britons (an almost identical 65% would back a year-long version).

Young Britons are particularly opposed to a year-long, compulsory period of military service

Support for all national service schemes is lowest among the age group that would actually have to do them – 18-24 year olds – although there is still net support among this age group for all voluntary schemes.

Resistance is highest for the year-long compulsory military service, which just 10% of 18-24 year olds would support and 78% would oppose (including 67% who are “strongly” opposed).

Support increases among every subsequent age group, reaching a maximum of 46% among those aged 65 and above. This generation proves to be split, with an identical 46% saying they would oppose this scheme.

* national service in the 1940s-60s was typically 18 months; given the expansion of higher education since then, it is likely that a modern version would last closer to a year to fit better with the academic calendar

See the full results here

Photo: Getty