Nearly two years on from the UK riots are we facing a critical problem with youth apathy and responsibility?
The debate has raged for years, generations even, one that divides a nation almost as much as caravan holidays. Should we reintroduce a period of National Service?
Before we get started, let us get a few things abundantly clear; this is not a suggestion that all young people have a desire to sit on their X-box's, twiddle their thumbs and moan about a lack of opportunity, far from it. It is more the suggestion that as a nation, we suffer from a lack of unity, underlined in some respects by a deep sense of apathy and detachment. For young people, this is more apparent than ever. For some it is the feeling of being let down, of progressing through education into a world that offers no hope for the future. For others, it is the entrenched feeling of entitlement. Of sitting on the sidelines expecting to be handed a successful life on a plate.
We need something bold. An action plan to get young people, from a young age not only involved in something constructive but of instilling a sense of responsibility, bound by a sense of unity. We don't need flag-waving nationalists aiding us to sing the national anthem with our hand on our hearts but we have to accept that as a nation we have become self-involved, almost indifferent to what goes on around us.
We need to ensure the young population are secure in a renewed sense of national identity, saved from the ill effects of marginalisation and apathy. It is not all about getting young, unemployed and disaffected young people out of a life that is spiralling into worthlessness, more a different approach to other schemes that, quite frankly, do very little.
National service, for all of its possibilities, still has that stigma attached to it. It is though people instantly conjure up images of old grey army huts flanked by drill sergeants making them stand out in the snow in their underwear, but this doesn't have to be the case.
For some people, national service is an outdated concept, an unwanted obstacle in a world where gaining employment as soon as possible and earning money is far more important. For others, it is the potential for national service to underpin national cohesion, which offers itself as such an attractive proposition.
Countries still have national service, not always because they want to instil a military mindset but to instil a sense of purpose, a connection with a nation, of moulding relationships with other young people irrespective of education and upbringing. We live in a nation that despite attempts by Government to reduce the social gap, is increasingly polarised. National service would help to bridge some of these gaps as a way to encourage friendship between youths of certain ages from different social and ethnic groups. It would also help to address concerns that the country's various groups are becoming increasingly isolated from one another.
Take Malaysia for example, a country with numerous ethnic groups, religions and languages who since 2003, have initiated a three-month national service training program which they hope will, amongst others, "produce an active, intelligent and confident generation".
National service, despite what the past has taught us, does not need to be solely military in nature. David Cameron, in one of his moments of shiny PR leadership said, in the aftermath of the 2011 riots, 'Let's make National Citizen Service available to all 16-year-olds as a rite of passage'.
Despite the wild claims of a moral breakdown in light of the riots actually hits on an interesting point. Instead of national service revolving around the needs of the military, why couldn't a 'national service' revolve around a wide range of civic duties and responsibilities.
New Government proposals, designed as three week courses to teach 16 year olds how to be 'better citizens', at least start to hint that what we are facing is more than a short-term problem. Although these schemes hit on an interesting point, they are hopeless, empty proposals that will simply skim the surface of what we should be trying to instill in our young people. They would be almost tokenistic, laughable sessions that no young person would ever take seriously.
'National Service' needs to be long enough to form common bonds but also for the young people in question to start to gain a change inperception. It could be that military responsibility does actually make up a percentage of this service, more as a means to improve fitness and discipline than to learn about military manoeuvres and guns. Others would benefit from other duties that were less about physicality and more about using reasoning and logic. All though, would come under the same founding principle. To be part of a nation of accepting and responsible individuals.
This is not an idealistic harp back to a time that has been lost, more a realisation that in terms of education and national responsibility we are being left behind, especially compared to countries such as Malaysia and South Korea. The vast majority of young people want to get on and find their best way through life. The question here is not about a generation of lazy youngsters, more the acceptance that we need something bold to encourage a different perspective.