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National service: Young people respond to Conservative plan

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Jade Marie Carnaje

Jade Marie Carnaje, 18, joined the air cadets in 2019

Over the weekend the Conservatives launched an election pledge that got people talking - the idea of getting 18-year-olds to take part in some form of national service if they win in July.

Labour says it's nothing but a "desperate gimmick" but what do teenagers think of the idea?

Eighteen-year-old Jade Marie Carnaje, an air cadet, said the national service plan was overall a "good idea".

"The benefits to young people outweigh the cons," she said.

Ms Carnaje, from Dagenham, east London, goes to air cadets twice a week. She said: "We do… a range of activities I would not have been able to do at school - it's definitely something that has changed my life.

"When you're encouraged to take up leadership positions at such a young age, it does help build up your confidence… there's definitely a side of me that thinks young people would benefit from this because they would gain skills," she added.

But she questioned why the government would spend an estimated £2.5bn on the scheme. She said: "The main issue in my mind is: why now, amidst so many economic concerns in this country?"

Samir Qurashi, from Camden in London, said he was worried the scheme would "hit working class young people the most".

"A lot of 18-year-olds are working in order to fund our lives - including myself," he said, adding the requirement to work one day a month unpaid could limit weekend earnings. "I need the money," he said.

"Young people have clearly not been consulted on this at all," he added.

Mr Qurashi is a former youth MP - unlike adult members of Parliament they are not affiliated with a political party.

He said: "The needs of young people aren't being prioritised here.

"Government cuts have seen the size of the Army fall. It does make me question why this is happening, and why young people are having to pay the price of this."

"The government has stated it will cost around £2.5bn and it makes me question first where that money is coming from, and how much that money could do for young people living in poverty," he said.

"All the skills they've mentioned can be easily gained in a school or college environment. They should invest that money in schools and colleges."

Mr Qurashi, who wants to be a doctor, said: "They say young people are living in a bubble but there are so many young people who volunteer in so many different sectors - I volunteered at Moorfields Eye Hospital."

Samir Qurashi

Samir Qurashi, 18, thinks the government should invest in education instead

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Oscar Brooker, a member of the Young Conservatives in Manchester, said he was in favour of the plan.

"It will give young people life skills and give them the chance to give back to the country - it will make people proud to be British," he said.

Mr Brooker, who is also an army cadet, said the scheme should not be mistaken for the reintroduction of military conscription.

"I'd be happy to do it - people presume it's all about the armed forces but it's not. It's also about the NHS and giving back to the community," he said.

He added: "People in my generation are trapped in a bubble, especially due to technology advancing… I feel like a lot of people in my generation are very glued to their mobiles, computer games and the TV."

Mr Brooker said of his experience as a cadet: "I've gained friendships but also a sense of pride that I'm doing something: I feel positive. It's also getting you active and not just sitting down all the time, and gives you a sense of pride for your country."

Oscar Brooker

Oscar Brooker, 15, enjoys volunteering

Sixteen-year-old Ayah Mamode doubts young people would "conform" with the scheme.

"Rishi Sunak said it would bring a renewed sense of [national] pride, but young people don't feel honoured by this country," she said.

Teenagers might resist a year of service in the armed forces because "lots of young people don't agree with Britain's engagement with other countries", she added.

UK Parliament

Ayah Mamode, 16, is a non-partisan Youth MP for Kensington and Chelsea

But the aspiring journalist could see some benefits to the plans.

"It would bring about a lot of soft skills you wouldn't learn in schools," she said.

However, Ms Mamode thought the money pledged to the scheme could be better spent elsewhere.

"Youth provisions are being underfunded… charities for young people are being shut down.

"If you've got that much money it shouldn't be [spent] on that one thing that benefits [politicians], it should be on bringing back services that benefit young people."

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