David Cameron’s announcement of a voluntary civic service scheme for 16-year-olds—Michael Caine in tow—earned some headlines this morning. Yet Prospect‘s James Crabtree and Labour’s controversial MP Frank Field made the case for a similar scheme in Prospect over a year ago.
So how does an interesting idea comes out in the Tory wash? Is Cameron’s plan a vote-winning bauble or stout compassionate-conservative policy?
Here’s how the Tory plan compares to Prospect’s. Firstly, Cameron’s scheme is voluntary. Crabtree and Field said that 16-25 year olds should have to spend at least six months being paid minimum wage to work with either children, the sick and elderly, or on environmental or social housing projects. It would effectively be a compulsory gap year—and well-off participants could get involved in an extra phase of more traditional activities like volunteering abroad. Cameron, on the other hand, announced his plan as “a kind of non-military national service—a two-month programme for sixteen year-olds to come together in common purpose.” In the Tory version, there’s no obligation and no pay.
Secondly, the scale is utterly different. Cameron’s group size, about 60, is only slightly larger than Crabtree and Field envisaged. But the overall scheme is a lot smaller. In the place of Crabtree and Field’s year-long venture, including a month away from home, the Tories propose only a week away from home with the remaining seven weeks for local volunteering, before everyone goes back to school or finds a job. Perhaps this accounts for vast difference in budget: whilst the Prospect writers admitted that their programme would cost billions, or tens of billions, the Tories’ budget for two years of pilot schemes is a minute £50m. Even given the difference in scale, this second figure looks slightly wishful. And under Tory proposals, the money is to be taken out of the department of communities and local government’s contribution to the controversial Preventing Violent Extremism programme.
Another aspect of Cameron’s programme is slightly hazy where Crabtree and Field’s is crystal clear. In their article they cited a youth boxing gym in Tottenham as an example of an environment where violence or other socially unacceptable urges could have an airing. The Tories,…