This week I was privileged to attend the launch of 'Step Up to Serve', a new cross-party and cross-sector national initiative to increase the number of young people taking part in social action across the UK. The event was hosted by HRH Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace and was attended by all three major party leaders, faith leaders, voluntary and community organisations and most importantly by young people from across the country who volunteer in their communities - from scouts to cadets, from kids who help deliver meals-on-wheels or pick up litter, to those taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
'Step Up to Serve', of which the Prince of Wales acts as Royal Patron, is focused on young people between the ages of 10 and 20 with the goal of doubling the number of young people taking part in social action from around 20% to over 50% by 2020. If successful, that would result in an incredible 1.7million young people engaging in social action for the first time.
This is a vital campaign as the truth is we are currently failing to maximise the energy, talent and potential of millions of young people in the UK. International comparisons show that Canada, Australia, Ireland and the United States put a much greater emphasis on young people's service to others. This needs to change. Social action not only benefits local communities by building safer communities and increasing civic participation, it also benefits young people by giving them the opportunity to build important skills and attitudes to be successful.
Experience has shown that meaningful social action can increase empathy and awareness amongst young people, contributing to positive outcomes like: increased civic participation; better engagement in education; improved employability; reduced crime levels; and enhanced health and well-being.
With this in mind, the campaign has agreed a set of principles for quality youth action. These include:
- Challenging: stretching and engaging as well as exciting and enjoyable.
- Youth-led: led, owned and shaped by young people.
- Socially Impactful: creating positive social change that is of benefit to the wider community as well as to the young people themselves.
- Progressive: progressing to other programmes and activities.
- Embedded: making social action the norm in a young person's journey towards adulthood and a habit for life.
- Reflective: valuing reflection, recognition and reward.
To achieve its objectives, 'Step Up to Serve' plans to get more people involved in social action by mobilising the support of organisations right across society, including businesses, schools and the voluntary sector. It already has stakeholders representing over 60 British institutions and it is looking for more. There is no doubt that it makes sense for employers to get involved as social action builds the skills they are looking for in young people. And it also makes sense for the education sector to do more to build social action into schools across the country to help increase opportunities.
The campaign is an umbrella initiative working across party politics and it was great to see all three party leaders pledge to take action to develop more opportunities and encourage more young people to participate in their communities. Others can get involved too by pledging via the website www.stepuptoserve.org.uk or by tweeting using #iwill to show commitment to the campaign.
Speaking at this week's launch, Ed Miliband talked about the spirit of hope encapsulated by the inspiring young volunteers who were so dedicated to improving their communities and to growing as individuals. He said: "There is nothing wrong in our country that cannot be fixed by doing the right thing". In that spirit, let's work together to reach the target of getting 1.7 million more young people engaging in social action and help them Step Up to Serve.
Michael Dugher is Labour Member of Parliament for Barnsley East and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office