Bring Back National Service

Today, I am in a good mood. This is rare. Even more out of the ordinary is the idea that I should write while in a good mood (in fairness the inclination was not all mine: I was coerced by an efficient editor). Normally, I prefer to write while melancholic. My disposition has caught me off guard. With that in mind, I’m not sure how this is going to play out. Apologies in advance if I go off topic. I’ve just been discussing why it would be preferable to bounce through a minefield on a space-hopper, rather than a pogo stick, so this could go either way.

I may come back to that, but, moving on… In addition to the editor, the Office for National Statistics is to blame for my sudden leap from hibernation. You see, the catalyst for penning some prose is the recent announcement that youth unemployment is down. This is good news. No doubt there were many pats on the back in Whitehall. Much rejoicing. However, while the statistics, or estimates, because that is what they are, are marginally encouraging, they are hardly earth shattering.

Here’s the stats. In the three months to February 2012 there were 1.03 million unemployed 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK, down 9,000 from the three months to November 2011. There were 2.63 million economically inactive 16- to 24-year-olds, of which most were in full-time education, while 3.63 million were in employment. This gives an unemployment rate of 22.2 per cent, down 0.1 per cent from the previous quarter.

The unemployment rate is calculated as the number of unemployed people divided by the economically active population (defined as those in employment plus those who are unemployed). Movement in this rate is seasonal as young people in full-time education are classed economically inactive. As swathes of young pups will leave school or university in the coming weeks, expect youth unemployment to peak again. Ditto cider drinking and muggings, as bored teenagers have little else to do.

Anywho, regardless of a few thousand here and a percentage point there, the fact is there is still a lot of young peeps playing PlayStation when they should be working. Now, before the lefties attack me on twitter, I’m not saying this is entirely their fault. I know there are many excitable, ambitious, enthusiastic young things out there with talent and initiative. Each time I meet one my faith in the young is restored. However, for every enterprising starlet there are two indifferent halfwits and one numskulled idiot. This is not a promising ratio.

So how do we address this problem? Should the responsibility be placed on employers to take on more apprentices, invest in training and a better environment? Yes, in part, I think it should. However, this will only capture and nurture the indifferent, and I fear the numskulled idiots will still slip through the net. And that is a problem not just for the government, and the Office of National Statistics’ figures, but for society as a whole. While those folk aren’t working, they’ll be mugging you.

The good news is: I have a plan. It’s nothing new, but then recycling old stuff is quite fashionable at the moment. My initiative, which I’m calling Challenge Apathy, but which, sadly, will not be headed-up by Anneka Rice, takes us back to the minefield, albeit without a space hopper (although I would still argue that this is an excellent mode of transport among minefields given the forgiveness in its bounce).

Challenge Apathy is not dissimilar to National Service, in that it’s exactly the same, yet with a clever rebrand. The government like clever rebrands, and, as mine is very clever, I may invoice them for a wildly optimistic fee. £800,000 perhaps? Or £1.2 million if I throw in a logo and a website. I’m sure they’ll pay it.

Now, you’re probably thinking that mandatory service, which was abolished in 1960, is a bit predictable. And you’re absolutely right. But have you any better suggestions? No. Good. So pipe down. According to The Telegraph, almost three quarters of Brits are with me on this one, believing it may curb anti-social behaviour among young people.

Think about it. Properly. It will give them something to do, while getting them out of their villages and estates, away from bad influence and lethargy. Show them that there is more to life than sitting at home, complaining that they haven’t got a job. They may also learn how to iron a shirt and shine their shoes. Two skills that’ll come in handy when they do, finally, bother to go to a job interview.

I’m not saying we should camo them up and pack them off to Afghanistan to tease the Taliban. But a few months sleeping rough in Dartmoor with a compass for company might not be a bad idea. It may also give them confidence and shape their future. Post Challenge Apathy some may join the Forces full-time, which is good. Others will return to their hometowns capable of opening a tin of beans and making their own bed. Thus doubling their previous qualifications.

I talk to numskulls all the time and it’s hard work. The conversation is always one-way and stuttered. Eventually you give up. But if we scoop them up and throw them in the countryside to chase sheep for 12 months they’ll actually have something to chat about. They’ll have a story. Plus they’ll mix with the nerds and the goths and the dreamers and the hippies and the scallies and the intelligent. They’ll be gay and straight and black and white and rich and poor. These kids are not used to mixing. You’d hope this cocktail would dislodge their prejudices. Expand their minds.

Mandatory service will give these Challenge Apathers more than just a certificate. It will give them an opportunity to change their lives. An opportunity that, sadly, many of them don’t currently have. Get on it Cameron, but not until you’ve settled my invoice, which is in the post (payable to an offshore firm, for tax purposes).

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