PM looks to citizen service to mend 'Broken Britain'

15th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday proposed extending a "National Citizen Service" programme for 16-year-olds, now in its first year, in response to the riots that rocked the country.

Addressing calls for the reintroduction of compulsory military service, which was abolished in Britain in 1960, Cameron said he wanted to broaden the voluntary, non-military scheme past its current size of around 11,000 participants.

"Many people have long thought that the answer to these questions of social behaviour is to bring back national service. In many ways I agree," the Conservative premier said as he outlined plans to fix a "broken society."

"That's why we are actually introducing something similar -- National Citizen Service. It's a non-military programme that captures the spirit of national service."

Speaking at youth club in his rural Oxfordshire constituency, against the backdrop of a graffiti mural, he added: "This should become a great national effort. Let's make National Citizen Service available to all 16-year-olds as a rite of passage."

He said he aimed for 30,000 to take part in the scheme next year.

In fact in its current guise, the National Citizen Service, which began this summer in England and is run by 12 different charities and other organisations, is much more like a youth activity scheme.

It involves a three-week programme in the school vacations, including a two-week summer camp away from home, the British government website says.

"Working in a team, youll have the chance to take part in exciting outdoor activities like mountaineering, canoeing and abseiling," it says.

That is followed by volunteers working for 30 hours on a part-time basis with other young people in their home regions on social projects.

The scheme was even available this summer in some of the English regions worst hit by rioting, including Hackney, Croydon and Ealing in London, and in the cities of Birmingham and Manchester.

Cameron has previously been criticised for woolly talk on social issues.

His flagship "Big Society" plan, which uses community and charity groups to boost the work of state agencies, has in the past failed to inspire the right wing of his party -- or indeed the British public.

But in the wake of the riots that left five people dead and saw children as young as 11 embark on an four-night rampage of looting, arson and violence across England, he appears to feel he has found his theme.

In his speech on Monday, Cameron pinned much of the blame for the riots on a "moral collapse" involving fatherless families and a breakdown of community spirit.

Speaking of the National Citizen Service programme, he added: "I passionately believe in this idea. It's something we've been developing for years."

But opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said the scheme, together with the rest of Cameron's suggestions, were "knee-jerk gimmicks not thought through".

There was even criticism from one of the children in the audience for Cameron's speech.

"He should stop blaming it on everyone else, he should stop living in la-la land. If he was doing his job right, this wouldn't be happening," said Jake Parkinson, 17.

© 2011 AFP

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