The media gave scant attention to the launch of The Step Up To Serve Campaign at Buckingham Palace on 21st November, hosted by The Prince of Wales with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband but the Daily Telegraph described the initiative to encourage more young people to volunteer as a useful way of keeping them out of trouble.
The challenges facing the young have profound implications for us all. The Prince's Trust says: 'If we lined up Britain's unemployed young people, the job queue would stretch from London to Middlesbrough'. Almost one million young people are unemployed, equivalent to 20% of all those under the age of twenty-five. According to the Trust, 10% of young people feel that they cannot cope with daily life.
The Prince's Trust supports 55,000 unemployed young people a year, 5% of the total, and intends to double the numbers it supports, with turnover increasing to £100 million a year, most of it donated. The Trust's objective is to help them enter the job market or found businesses. Volunteering plays a key role, both for the young and their adult mentors.
Volunteering is much more than about keeping the young off the streets: it empowers the young, gives them confidence and opportunities, an understanding of the needs of their local communities, the role they can play in solving problems and provides entry to a wider world. Currently, 29% of 16-24 year olds volunteer but a survey by Demos showed that 91% of 11-16 year olds would like to be more involved.
The new Campaign aims to increase the numbers volunteering to more than 50% of all young people by 2020, is backed by the three main parties and should be welcomed. Critics will argue that politicians should focus on strengthening the economy, job creation and more homes for the young. I agree and that more needs to be done to reverse growing inequality. However, I believe that philanthropy in its widest sense, the giving of time as well as money, is as important as the essential role that the state should continue to play in sustaining the common good.
Altruism has been fundamental to human evolution and the foundation of society. Giving to others is one way of defining our humanity and finding personal fulfillment, something that excessive materialism cannot deliver. The young should not be denied that opportunity.
Do the eloquent speeches made by political leaders at Buckingham Palace mean anything? We should withhold judgment until they unite, as recommended by many philanthropists, behind a policy to strengthen the voluntary society as the state retreats. We need a more generous and harmonious society and the only way to achieve that is to put values back into the curriculum and thereby persuade the young to be truly aspirational. We cannot teach the young to give but we can teach the value of service.
We should follow the example of Atlantic College, an international school in Wales, where 16 to 18 year olds study for the International Baccalaureate. In addition, the students aspire to earn the Atlantic Diploma based upon their commitment to a non -academic programme involving local charities as well as international issues. The emphasis is upon personal initiative and responsibility and the students drive much of what they do. The College's mission is to use education to unite people in a more sustainable, socially just and peaceful world and the diploma is designed to reflect this, the student's experience of service and to demonstrate their commitment to others. We should adopt the diploma in all our schools, state and private, as something to be valued nationally, not least by higher education and employers. Many of Atlantic College's international students have backgrounds of unimaginable poverty. The College experience transforms their lives and we should give the same opportunity to our own young people. Politicians talk about aspiration but the solution to empowering the young is on our doorstep in Wales. What are they waiting for?
John Nickson is the author of Giving Is Good For You: Why Britain Should Be Bothered And Give More. He is giving his royalties to charity.