I, like thousands of 15-17-year-olds across the country, recently took part in National Citizen Service, a three-week programme costing the Government £1.5 billion that aims to engage young people in their local communities and connect people of different backgrounds. I made new friends and learned about problems in my community, as the programme intends. I, like thousands of 15-17-year-olds across the country, have seen youth services cut, libraries closed down, and sports centres shut, all due to lack of funding. At the same time, despite the supposedly life-changing effects of NCS to help disadvantaged young people on a large scale, youth knife crime has risen.
Is it any coincidence that young people abandoned by a government that aims to solve all social ills in a three-week programme see no opportunity outside of crime?
Don’t get me wrong — NCS is an admirable and well-intentioned scheme. It is hard to criticise the Conservatives supposed aim to empower young people to change their communities for the better. The Government has correctly recognised that community engagement has positive impacts for all involved, and has aimed to make the scheme accessible to all — participants never pay more than £50 for a three-week programme costing around £1,863 per participant. In my time on NCS, I met people from different backgrounds and learned about my power to change my community. In short, NCS sets out with a noble mission that could help young people and the world around them.
But this ideal is useless if not carried through to other areas of policy. A government that aims to help young people does not cut youth services by 46 per cent, causing over 100 youth clubs in London alone to close in just eight years. These are invaluable in offering day-to-day support for disadvantaged young people, yet the Tories have ignored the benefits of low-level yet consistent support in favour of one showy, three-week programme that now accounts for 95 per cent of youth spending. NCS, though undeniably useful and important, will never make up for the systematic disregard for young people the Tories have shown.
What’s more, many participants see the programme as a summer camp and leave before the third week, so the community experiences no benefit at all. When volunteering placements are available and accessible for young people in most situations, and most schools require work experience, two weeks of taxpayer-financed summer camp hardly seem necessary to engage young people in their communities and teach them new skills.
The huge amount of taxpayer money used for NCS is impossible to justify: since 2010, funding for youth services has decreased by £737 million with catastrophic impacts not only for the young people affected but for wider society too, as ignored young people turn to crime and gangs. While this seems like too much money to restore to youth services, this is less than half what the Government committed to NCS. It is clear that the programme, at best, helps only a small portion of young people; yet all will suffer from the impacts of less funding to youth services. The money is clearly needed much more by ailing youth services that help people on an everyday basis, not to mention the NHS or underfunded schools — neither of which would refuse such generous investment.
So what can be done about this noble, but ultimately misguided service which helps a few at the expense of other services? Despite having witnessed first-hand the benefits of NCS, I believe that the programme must be scrapped in order to provide funds for those that need it more and will yield more benefits. In financing such an extravagant but limited service at the expense of the taxpayer and youth services, the Tory’s hypocrisy and indifference towards young people is clear.
NCS can do nothing to mend wider societal problems as a result of cuts to youth services, and pretending that three weeks can fix a society scarred by austerity is deluded and shamefully wrong.