Chief Executive Sophie Livingstone on the need to be bold on National Citizen Service legislation

“In the Queen’s speech today, the government set out its intention to bring forward legislation on the National Citizen Service (NCS), putting the scheme on “a permanent statutory footing”, as part of a range of measures to boost the life chances of young people.

“This follows George Osborne’s pledge in last year’s spending review that the government will spend over £1 billion in the course of this parliament on the programme set up by David Cameron.

“NCS received cross party support in the Labour and Conservative 2015 manifestos, and is now widely recognised to be successful in improving the life chances of young people. It does this by bringing together 16 and 17 year olds from all backgrounds to learn new skills by taking part in team building and community action projects. Based on the success of the scheme under the last parliament, government has already said that it wants 300,000 young people a year to be taking part by 2020.

“The new legislation announced today are likely to include measures such as placing a duty on schools and local authorities to promote the scheme. This demonstrates the government’s intention to drive a culture change in the role of citizen service in public life that goes beyond a single programme for 16 year olds. NCS has tapped into a resource that this country has sorely overlooked – young people’s desire and enthusiasm to make a positive difference in their communities.

“At City Year,we’re increasingly receiving applications from young people who have completed their NCS experience and want more.

“There are many ways in which new legislation could better recognise the benefits that citizen service brings to our society. I want to offer just two.

“Firstly, the forthcoming Bill needs to set out the legal status for a voluntary service year. In America, Germany and France, citizen service legislation has created a unique role for people to volunteer alongside public services and charities on a full-time basis. Currently in the UK, full-time volunteering, which is offered by charities such as City Year UK, vInspired, and Volunteering Matters, has no positive legal status or recognition from government, which inhibits the uptake of these programmes by NCS graduates.

“Secondly, the government should seek to embed the role of volunteering in education. Looking at the example of other countries that have exemplary models of civic service, we find that service learning starts long before young people have the opportunity to take part in something like NCS. Government needs to build the pipeline of interest in schools, perhaps making volunteering part of the English Baccalaureate, in the same way that community service is a requirement of the International Baccalaureate.

“If David Cameron is looking for a policy legacy that can be taken on by future leaders and prime ministers, the success of voluntary service schemes abroad is a good reference point.

“New statutory legislation for NCS is a historic opportunity. With the right legislation in place we can build on our proud history in the UK of voluntary service, to ensure that giving back becomes a central part of growing up in the UK – with all the benefits this brings to our society.”

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