'"National citizen service" should be compulsory'

April 09, 2010, 7:14 PM GMT+0

The majority of the British public thinks that the Conservatives ‘national citizen service’ proposals should be made compulsory, a new survey undertaken for the Sun newspaper has revealed.

The proposal, intended for all 16 year olds, and backed by actor Sir Michael Caine, would see teenagers volunteering for two months after their GCSEs and would include physical challenges such as mountain climbing, orienteering and even Army training. The service would also offer teenagers social work training before they took part in social action projects to help the elderly or disadvantaged.

The Conservative leader David Cameron, who has recounted how he completed a similar scheme while at Eton College, described the proposal as ‘something like national service, but not military [and] not compulsory, but universal’. He also stated how he hopes it would ‘engage young people and [give] them a sense of purpose, optimism and belonging’.

However, contrary to Conservative plans to make the proposals non-compulsory, our results indicate a considerable level of support for a compulsory national citizen service; our poll of 916 people found that 64% believed that national citizen service should be made compulsory. Interestingly, levels of support are lowest among the 18-34 age bracket, with only 51% supporting compulsory service compared with 68% of over 55 year olds, which perhaps indicates a generational gap in attitudes to civic participation and perceptions of young people’s place in society.

The proposal also attracts cross party support among voters with 82% of Conservative voters describing it as a ‘good idea’ followed by 77% of Labour voters and 76% of Liberal Democrat voters. However, the scheme has been publicised in the national press as a Tory venture, and Cameron’s support for the proposals could be one of the reasons that the Conservatives have seen their lead over Labour grow in recent polls.

The proposals have been criticised by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls as ‘another spending commitment from the Tories with the flakiest of funding solutions’. However, moves that highlight youth engagement and civic participation have been supported by all parties, and our results indicate that not only is there considerable support for compulsory service, but the Conservatives may have gained a political advantage by outlining in detail such a service would operate under a Conservative government.

For survey details and full results, please click here

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