Today’s UK news brings the story that a major plank of Gordon Brown’s manifesto for the next election will be that all young people will be required to undertake at least 50 hours of voluntary work by the age of 19. Alex Massie has already pointed out the bizarreness of the concept of compulsory voluntary work so that I don’t have to. It falls to me, therefore, to ask exactly what this means.
I’m pretty sure that by the time I was 19 I had put in well over 50 hours of voluntary work helping out at the local cricket club, and at the stamp club where my Dad was a leading member. My mum commented that at 19 she was spending a lot of her time looking after her young brother and sister, and helping out at her father’s business. Somehow I doubt that any of these things will count towards Mr. Brown’s targets.
What I think this is actually about is social services. The government is facing a huge shortfall in areas like the health service, care for the elderly and disabled, and so on. One way to plug that gap, and play to the general hysterical fear of “young people” that the media is so fond of encouraging, is to draft kids into unpaid service in these areas. Which of course leaves one very important question: who is going to train and manage these press-ganged kids?
In sensitive and difficult areas such as this, I have a sneaking suspicion that we may often be better off without help than with unwilling help.