What could national service mean for young people in the UK?

The Conservative Party would introduce national service if they win the next election

What could national service mean for young people in the UK?

Home Secretary James Cleverly announced this week that the Conservative Party would introduce mandatory national service for all 18-year-olds if they win the 2024 general election which will take place on July 4.

What?

The scheme would take place in two ways. 

Firstly, 30,000 selective places would be available for 18-year-olds to complete a one-year placement in the military. This could include areas such as cyber security or civil operations. The young people would not be involved in front-line duty. 

Secondly, all other 18-year-olds in the UK would be required to volunteer one weekend per month for a one-year period, culminating in 25 days, in a local charity or community project. This volunteering may include key services such as fire, police and ambulance, or charities that care for homeless or elderly people. 

It is unknown whether young people in education or employment would be obliged to participate or whether they would be able to defer.

Why?

Cleverly argued that the scheme aims to address the “fragmentation” currently experienced by young people in enabling them to meet and mix with new peer groups. “We want to get back to a situation where young people are mixing with people - in different areas, different economic groups, different religions…”

The announcement forms part of Sunak’s strategy to position the Conservatives as the party of strong security. He claimed in a recent speech that “the next few years will be some of the most dangerous.”

Sunak was also likely appealing to older, rather than younger, voters in this announcement. Polling from 2023 suggests that young people in the UK are less likely to support any form of national service than their elders, but especially compulsory ones

How?

According to the Conservative Party, the scheme would cost £2.5 billion. They propose funding it firstly through cutting tax avoidance and secondly through the Shared Prosperity Fund, which supports community organisations post-Brexit.

What does Labour say?

The Labour Party directly opposing the scheme, calling it a “gimmick.” In particular, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves criticised the scheme’s funding, which is said to be diverting money from the Levelling Up budget.

A Labour spokesperson continued attacking the Conservative’s record on defence. “This is not a plan – it’s a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories hollowed out the armed forces to their smallest size since Napoleon.”

Header Image Credit: British Troops Remembering the Fallen in Afghanistan via Flickr, © Crown Copyright 2014 Photographer: Corporal Andrew Morris (RAF)

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