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Saskia Konynenburg

Saskia Konynenburg

Director of Strategic Communications and Insight

Saskia focuses NCVO's brand & communications strategy

Director of Strategic Communications and Insight

National service and volunteering: A guide to the Conservative party’s policy announcement

Saskia Konynenburg

Saskia Konynenburg

Director of Strategic Communications and Insight

Saskia focuses NCVO's brand & communications strategy

Director of Strategic Communications and Insight

The Conservatives have set out a new policy proposal to introduce mandatory national service for 18-year-olds if they win the general election.

The scheme would mean 12 months of national service for all 18-year-olds as part of 30,000 full-time military placements or to volunteer one weekend a month, (totalling 25 days a year in total), in roles within the:

  • fire service
  • police
  • NHS
  • and other public services.

We’ve reviewed the policy and here are our opening thoughts.

1. If it’s mandatory, it’s not volunteering

Volunteering is fundamentally about freely giving your time and effort to benefit others, without being forced to. If people are not given a choice to participate, it goes against this principle., This could result in poor outcomes and negative experiences for young people (and potentially the organisation they volunteer for).

2. Learn from existing volunteering initiatives

There are many effective volunteering programmes, such as the National Citizen Service, that already successfully engage young people. These programmes were set up with substantial government investment and offer valuable lessons that should inform any new policy.

3. Any scheme like this needs proper, sustainable funding and resources

Diverting £1.5 billion from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which supports vital community projects, raises concerns about the funds being used equitably and effectively.

Sustainable, long-term funding is crucial to developing meaningful volunteering opportunities and addressing barriers that prevent people from getting involved.

The government will need to put significant investment in staff and infrastructure to manage and support the increased number of young people engaged in community service.

4. It doesn’t tackle the root cause of challenges for young people

As set out in the recently published Voluntary Sector Manifesto, we’re calling on the next government to take significant steps to address deep-rooted societal challenges. Yet, the proposed scheme fails to consider the broader socio-economic challenges faced by many young people.

Mandatory national service could disrupt employment, education, and other personal plans, potentially leading to negative impacts on wellbeing and economic stability.

In the current economic climate, with high levels of youth unemployment and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, imposing additional mandatory commitments may worsen these issues rather than provide constructive solutions.

Recommendations for a better approach

Charities bring vital knowledge and expertise, which can benefit policy-making and service design. We’re a force for good and a force for change.

Government is stronger when it values outside expertise and listens to charities and the public. To genuinely support young people and enhance their volunteering experience, the next government should focus on the following:

  1. Speak to voluntary organisations: Not only does our sector need more volunteers, but we also have experience of what works. We’re also developing a strategy around this through Vision for Volunteering and would welcome more investment in this.
  2. Remove barriers to volunteering: Initiatives should be designed to remove obstacles that prevent people from volunteering, such as inflexible work schedules and financial constraints. As highlighted in the Voluntary Sector Manifesto, introducing measures like paid volunteering leave and time off for trustees could encourage greater participation.
  3. Build on existing programmes: Taking advantage of successful initiatives like the National Citizen Service and working with organisations already involved in youth engagement, such as the iWill campaign and local volunteer centres, could help create a more supportive and effective volunteering environment.
  4. Ensure sustainable funding: Long-term, equitable funding is essential to support the infrastructure required for meaningful volunteer engagement. This includes investing in youth services and making sure that charities have the resources they need to cover expenses and provide impactful opportunities.
  5. Promote positive volunteering experiences: As we know from our Time Well Spent research, volunteering should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for every volunteer. Policies should aim to foster a lifelong commitment to volunteering by emphasising the personal and social benefits of giving back to the community. Celebrating and recognising volunteers' contributions can enhance their experience and motivation.

Saskia Konynenburg, Executive Director at NCVO, said:

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