Compulsory volunteering…?

April 14, 2009

You couldn’t make it up. Or, if you did, you would be derided by all right-thinking people. It appears that Brown’s next big idea to restore community cohesion, or whatever the latest buzzword is for people getting on with each other, is to compel young people to do at least 50 hours of community work before they leave school.

So let’s get this straight. In order to persuade young people who have little stake in society that they really, really want to become engaged with the community, they’re going to be forced to work for it. How can anyone possibly think this is a good idea? Certainly, we might have more litter picked up, but it’ll do nothing to deal with the underlying causes of disaffected youth – namely, that they see no role for themselves within society.

If you, as a young person, learn that the best you can hope for out of living as a valued member of society is a precarious job in a call centre, then it’s actually a rational choice to not respect that society at all. If you then learn that you’re going to be forced to do work for a community that has nothing to offer you, you’re only going to become more resentful.

This will not work. Not just because it won’t do anything to make people get on with each other, but because if you tell a teacher or social worker that he’s got to supervise thirty 16-year-old lads who really don’t want to be there, then he’s going to find some way to make it palatable for them – which probably won’t involve doing anything actually useful. But it’ll hit the target, and that’s what matters, right?

This policy could not be more New Labour. It’s an imposed central directive that does nothing for the root cause of the problem, and is likely to waste time and money. But people will see youths out on the street (probably in orange bibs) doing something, so clearly the Government is trying, right?


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