Young people in Liverpool react to 'backwards' national service plan

Young people in Liverpool have hit out at the Conservative Party’s announcement that they will introduce compulsory twelve-month national service for eighteen-year-olds if they are re-elected on July 4.

Mandatory national service has not been in place in the UK since 1960. However, Rishi Sunak has argued that bringing back compulsory service will “create a shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country”.

He said the move would help young people learn “real world skills, do new things and contribute to their community and country”.

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The service would either consist of twelve months of military training in the armed forces, or would take the form of community volunteering, which would require teenagers to spend one weekend a month working in organisations such as the police, the fire service, the NHS, and charities that care for older people.

The plan has attracted widespread criticism. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described it as “a sort of teenage Dad's Army”, while his shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall labelled the policy as “yet another unfunded spending commitment”.

Young people in Liverpool spoke to the ECHO today sharing their views on the plan for mandatory national service.

Callum Young, a student at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), described the policy as “really backwards” and raised concerns around the necessity of increasing the army when Britain already has such a high nuclear defence budget.

The twenty-year-old asked: “If we have this [nuclear deterrent], why do we need national service anymore?”

Others questioned the moral element of being forced to join the army, particularly as it sits at odds with the personal beliefs and viewpoints of many young people. Evelyn Field, a seventeen-year-old A-Level student, argued that “a lot of young people are against war”, adding: “We don’t want to be a part of wars, we want to protest against them”.

Aaron Taylor, a twenty-four-year-old law graduate from LJMU, believes that the introduction of a volunteer system in the NHS and other institutions shines a light on more general issues of underfunding. He said: “Having people join the NHS [unpaid] is just another problem with underfunding the NHS in the first place.”

Jack Murray, a twenty-one-year-old history student also at LJMU, asked: “How is National service going to fix a struggling economy? Unless they are going to make us pave roads!”

Many people remain confused about the details of the policy, such as Luis Risnes, a student at the University of Liverpool.

The 19-year-old asked: “If you’re at university or have a part time job does it not apply to you?”

The Government has stated that people who have jobs or are planning to go to university will not be exempt and will “have to fit National Service around their lives”. Similarly, gap years will also not count as a reason to be exempted from National Service. There is no option to opt out or defer.

Luis also raised concerns about the environment of the military in regard to diverse communities. He said: “You don’t see many gay people in the military. It’s not a very inclusive environment”.

In 2021, the ONS found that only 1.4% of the UK armed forces veterans identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This is less than half the national average of 3.3%.

There was a general sense that the National Service policy would be highly disruptive to young people’s plans and aspirations for the future.

Aaron Taylor suggested that had the policy been implemented when he was eighteen, it would have made life more difficult. He added: "It certainly would have got in the way of my plans for the future”.

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