Page last updated at 04:58 GMT, Sunday, 6 December 2009

Calls for national civic service

Volunteering should be compulsory for students, says the report

England's higher education minister David Lammy has backed calls for a national army of volunteers to help the UK economy out of recession.

The idea comes from a report which also calls for students to do 100 hours of "compulsory civic service".

The Demos report argues youngsters aged 18 to 24 on such a scheme should be entitled to the means-tested grants and loans available to university students.

Mr Lammy said a national civic service should be in the next Labour manifesto.

The proposal from the think tank Demos suggests people should get the opportunity to take part in a national service-style scheme at key points in their lives; during school, in further education and on gap years between school and university.

I hope the recommendations from this excellent report find their way in to the next Labour manifesto
David Lammy
Higher Education Minister

Employers would have to allow their staff to take a week off a year to take part in the service.

But its key proposal is that 18 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training would also be entitled to means-tested loans and grants like those on offer to university students, if they took part in the scheme.

It would take the form of structured service as part of training for the workplace and they would keep their entitlement to benefits while they did so.

Meanwhile, university students would be required to carry out 100 hours of community service in recognition of the subsidy the state pays towards their education - estimated at £8,000.

The £450m cost of the scheme would be funded by levying interest on student loans.

Report author Sonia Sodha said: "A civic corps serving the nation will help local communities, ease the burden on public services and boost young people's employability at a time when the recession is biting."

'Loans interest'

She said the interest raise would be a fair levy on those benefiting from state-subsidised education.

Mr Lammy said: "I have long campaigned for a national civic service and I hope the recommendations from this excellent report find their way into the next Labour manifesto.

"In a consumerist age young people need more opportunities to develop an ethic of service to others.

"In a multi-cultural Britain we must bring together young people from different backgrounds to encounter and work alongside one another. For a more altruistic, less parochial youth culture we need a national civic service."

He is due to speak at a seminar on the report. Later, his officials said he "supported an element of compulsion" but not the report's recommendations on finance.

'Student debt'

The University and College Union said that plans to fund a national service-style civilian scheme, paid for by increasing student debt, were ludicrous.

The union said it was horrified that wildly inaccurate figures were being used to justify the plans and furious that Mr Lammy had given the scheme his backing.

The Conservatives have proposed a six-week national service scheme for youngsters in the summer after their GCSEs.

And Gordon Brown has said he wants all young people to be required to do 50 hours of community service by the time they turn 19.

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