Statement on the National Service proposal

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that he would reintroduce national service in the UK if re-elected. He believes this scheme would promote a "shared sense of purpose among our young people”, many of whom are currently studying at, or preparing to study at, university, and “a renewed sense of pride in our country," aiming to ensure that "people mix with people outside their bubble" for "community cohesion."1

While a goal to increase community cohesion seems commendable on the surface, SCM strongly disagree with the chosen method and believe it demonstrates a disappointing lack of faith in Britain's young people. According to a survey by The National Lottery Community Fund’s (NLCF) community research index, young people aged 18-24 were most likely to volunteer, with 69% indicating their intention to do so in 2023.2 This shows that young people are already leading the way with their community-minded efforts. 

As a Christian organisation, who believe that the love and peace of Jesus should be at the heart of everything we do, we are also concerned that the governments preferred method of uniting the next generation is through military service. Having steadily reduced the size of the armed services over the last fourteen years, we are sceptical that the forces really have the capacity to assimilate 30,000 teenagers, or that such action would be beneficial to our national defense strategy. Indeed, a recent statement from a Junior Defence Minister agrees with this.3

Historically, national service has disproportionately impacted young people from working-class backgrounds, while those from more affluent families often find ways to avoid it.4 This proposal risks further harming a generation already significantly affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns, which disrupted their education and formative years in ways that are still not fully understood. 

Additionally, the proposal has been poorly communicated, exacerbating feelings of fear and confusion among the young people it would affect. There have been no answers to critical questions about exemptions for young carers, breadwinners, or those with conditions preventing participation. It remains unclear whether individuals in full-time education or employment would be compelled to participate or could defer completion. The Tories have also not clarified whether UK citizens living overseas would be required to return to complete national service.5

In summary, while the aim of fostering community cohesion is positive, the method proposed by the Tories is flawed and ill-conceived. The proposal risks alienating the very people it aims to unite and overlooks the significant contributions young people are already making to their communities. If the government is intent on fostering a sense of national pride in young people, This Movement would rather they did so by devoting their energies to making sure this is a country to be proud of.