There are no silver bullets in policy-making, but the Year of Service ticks a lot of boxes.Lord O’Shaughnessy, Chairman of the Social Fabric programme
It is hard to overstate the effect of the pandemic on younger generations. Workers aged between 16 and 25 years old made up nearly two thirds of job losses during the pandemic up until March 2021 and were more likely to be furloughed than any other age group. Those that were at school and university suffered disruption to teaching and exams, with lost learning at school estimated as reducing lifetime earnings by up to £40,000 on average over a young person’s working life. Young people have also been strongly affected by the mental health aspects of the pandemic.
While ministers have gone to great lengths to insure against job losses through the furlough scheme and to underwrite job training through Kickstart, there is one area where young people are clearly demanding greater opportunity: the ability to serve their local community and wider civic goals such as education, care and climate.
The roundtable felt there is a need to re-evaluate the opportunities presented to young people. In particular, there was a belief from those in the room that young people were interested in contributing more to society, and that this should go beyond traditional approaches to volunteering or social action.
The NCS presented their proposals for a UK Year of Service. This is a pilot scheme, funded by NCS Trust, to demonstrate the potential of a scheme which boosts employability, directly employs young people in socially beneficial roles, and inspires these young people to build lives and careers of civic service. Young people will carry out work placements for 30+ hours a week, lasting 9-12 months in one of 3 areas: healthcare, public services or the environment, whilst being paid at the National Living Wage (and more in London).
There was a deep sense among attendees that the concept of “civic service” had inherent value that was often overlooked. The extent to which the UK Year of Service can achieve this, through its placements in social care, forestry ,education, and further afield, is being tested with robust evaluation, to prove the benefit of civic service to policymakers.
The event benefited from the contributions of a number of young people, including members of the CS Youth Voice Forum. These contributions gave a perspective that is often lost in policy debates, that of young people themselves. It was also noted that the UK Year of Service filled a gap in the labour market, for people who were neither well off enough to benefit from family networks but not disadvantaged enough to benefit from schemes such as Kickstart, but who nevertheless may struggle to find work.
The discussion centred on a number of key questions for scaling and growing the scheme from a pilot to a national scheme. These included questions about the design of the scheme, and the explicit decision to pay young people for civic roles.
This raised the question of how the scheme worked with existing organisations and supported them to grow, rather than competing with civic society. Finally, there was a question of funding: the pilot is temporary and relies in part on a temporary government funding scheme, Kickstart, to support the costs. How can this be funded in the long-run, and who would fund it? There was an acceptance that without long-term financial backing the scheme was not viable.
There was discussion on the opportunities for developing the scheme in future. It was noted that the scheme should measure the impact of work placements on productivity and retention if possible. While highlighting the extent to which young people are genuinely motivated by civic service, and it was felt this value could be much better harnessed.
Beyond this the roundtable also discussed how the model could be adapted to become more flexible, in order to allow FTSE companies and their supply chains to participate and contribute to social mobility.
Lord Blunkett, Former NCS Trust Board Member and Former Cabinet Minister said:
“The government already spends large sums of public money on remedial action, when early investment in the life chances of young people would not only benefit them but save expenditure down the line. There is a chance here to reframe when and how we spend that money by investing in the UK Year of Service, strengthening the offer to young people with training and enrichment, and as an important step on their civic journey.”
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