Over half of Yorkshire voters back new national service to tackle youth mental health crisis
Research by the Onward think tank found that 600,000 people could be enrolled in a new scheme to develop skills and forge patriotism.
It suggested that every 16-year-old could be enrolled automatically in a new “Great British National Service” unless they drop out.
Though the upfront cost could rise to as much as £1.3 billion but could be funded by addressing “intergenerational inequality” by reforming the pensions triple lock and channelling £2 billion of savings to young people.
Polling found that 55 per cent of people in Yorkshire supported the idea, while only 20 per cent were against it.
The think tank urged the UK to learn from other countries such as France, which introduced its voluntary Service Nationale Universel (SNU) in 2018 which has had a positive reception.
It said that creating an opt-out system would ensure more people from all backgrounds sign up, after the failure of the UK’s existing National Citizen Service which saw only 13 per cent of its target sign up in its best ever year, far below the 45 per cent officials had hoped.
“A national civic service would develop skills, improve mental wellbeing, and enhance a sense of belonging among Britain’s young people.
“I would like to see all young people offered the opportunity to participate in a voluntary national scheme.
“The next generation are our greatest resource – but we need to invest in them, and help them to develop their characters and talent. Give them opportunities to mix with their peers and experience that will stand them in good stead for the future.”
“The world of work is changing and it’s vital that young people develop their life-skills. They need resilience, flexibility – and they need to be able to operate as part of a team. The way we currently structure our education system will help develop some of those skills, but a voluntary national scheme, if structured in the right way could add huge value to their development.”
It comes at the time of a worsening mental health crisis among young people in the UK, with over one million under 18 referring to mental health services last year and suicide rates of those between 15 to 19 at their highest in almost half a decade.
Polling by JL Partners also found that although both 18-25 year olds and the wider public placed the cost of living as the most important issue facing young people, those under the age of 26 put mental health on an almost even footing with the affordability problems affecting households across the country.
One 17-year-old student from Doncaster, who has not decided who she will vote for at the next election, told a focus group how important the issue is among her peers.
“Mental health and help is hard to get,” she said, adding: “It's a genuine psychiatric illness.”
“People can be on the edge and only when they try something to end their life do they get the smallest bit of help.”
She added that there was also an issue around the availability of jobs.
“They all need experience but there’s nowhere to get that experience. How’re you supposed to get a job where they all need prior experience?”
Francois Valentin, Senior Researcher at Onward, said: "With so many younger people feeling lonely, ill-equipped for the workplace and disconnected from their community and nation, it's time for a bold idea to stop a generation from falling further into crisis.
"National service can be a unifying experience, teaching people the skills they need to succeed. It is not an outdated idea from history, but a modern solution more and more countries are using to help young people.
"Creating a new Great British National Service would be a popular answer to young people's challenges. It would help them develop the skills, mental resilience and national pride many lack.”