An open letter: why we need a National Youth Corps – what’s our reaction?

Putting aside my negative knee-jerk response to the very sound of the name ‘Youth Corps’ I’m posting this immediately to test responses to the initiative. For now I’ll give it some more thought. Certainly if it has any potential and seeks to resist a return to ‘business as usual’ the structure and processes need to go far beyond ‘the involvement’ of young people in design and management. Young people need to be embedded as decision-makers at all levels of its operation. Perhaps I fear a post-COVID glorified version of a 1980s Manpower Services Commission Work Experience scheme? I’m showing my age.

Ta to the Observer


A government-sponsored work programme is young Britons’ best hope of a future

Dear Sir, the evidence is building from all sides. After the sharpest monthly increase in unemployment in April on record, school and university leavers face the toughest labour market this summer for 75 years. Already, 30% of university students have either lost their job or offer of a job. Moreover, young people in work are disproportionally suffering from redundancy or the requirement to work shorter working hours: one in three is receiving less pay than they were in January. Generation “Covid”, through no fault of their own, face having their lives altered as no other generation since the war, with scars that will last their entire lives. Our national conversation must now incorporate how we act to turn this looming disaster into an opportunity.

In that spirit we propose the establishment of a National Youth Corps that should be able to guarantee at least the minimum wage in a wide variety of work and training opportunities for all those between 16 and 25 who apply. It should extend until the end of 2021. Via the Youth Corps, the government will in effect be offering the guarantee of work to our young people at a pivotal moment in their lives. The Youth Corps should be sufficiently flexible to allow employers (and institutions) to offer a top-up wage for particular skills if they choose. A core part of the plan is to involve young people at a senior level at all stages of the design and implementation and ongoing management.

Crucially, it will also embed Britain’s most ambitious ever mentoring capability. Through personal, one-to-one mentoring, Youth Corps members will be guided and supported to acquire the knowledge, networks, skills, experience and confidence they need to succeed in this “new normal”. The Youth Corps offer, including its mentoring, will thus ensure that young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are able fully to participate and benefit from the scheme.

British-based employers should pledge a range of job offers depending on their financial circumstances, with the option to opt out if in significant economic difficulty. The proposals should include those from local government, the NHS, cultural and sporting projects, green initiatives, apprenticeships, managing the Covid-19 crisis, infrastructure improvements, vocational training, voluntary organisations, community leadership academies and innovation initiatives, including those associated with the industrial strategy.

Third sector organisations that specialise in working with young people will be eligible for tailored investment to enable them to build capacity to participate in the programme. The offers of work tasks and projects will be posted to a digital work hub to ensure common standards and protocol. The offers will then be distributed to local National Youth Corps centres and made available via an app to individuals who can match the offer to their skills and wishes.

The UK government should announce its intent to create the Youth Corps along with the necessary funding as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. The programme must go live before the end of the school and university year in July. Given the success of GoodSam, the expectation should be that up to a million 16- to 25-year-olds will apply to be part of the scheme.

We, the undersigned, who have experience of working with young people, volunteer to be part of a task force ready to work with the government to design and launch the programme. We are entirely open about how this proposal could be turned into reality, and to what degree it can build on existing initiatives – but we do know that our young urgently deserve a national response.

The Youth Corps has the potential to be a crucial building block in getting the whole of Britain back to work, both in providing opportunities for young people at a crucial moment in their lives and in creating an army of workers who can help propel a faster economic recovery than would otherwise be the case. It is a moral and economic imperative.

Yours faithfully,

Rushanara Ali, MP Co-founder and Chair of UpRising and One Million Mentors

Sarah Atkinson, Social Mobility Foundation

Richard Brabner, UPP Foundation

John Craven, upReach

Roger Harding, Reclaim

Will Hutton, Hertford College, University of Oxford

Kirsty McHugh, Mayor’s Fund for London

Steve Moffitt, Create Jobs

Julie Sneddon, Working Options in Education

Kerry O’Brien, Young Urban Arts Foundation

Anand Shukla, Brightside

Chris Wright, Catch22

If you are interested in being part of the Youth Corps, please go to

One comment

  1. Have been wondering how to respond to this initiative.As the authors say young people need a national response,however, the rationale is completely premised on the pandemic/debacle.
    Whilst true, this brings it’s own particular issues.It does seem to me that young people,like all of us,after 40 years of mass unemployment.Apparently mitigated by similar initiatives, actually need full time jobs, with careers, long term possibilities. Paid the rate for the job,trade union rights, training ,development etc.
    I.e.,the kind of work and wages etc that the writers and backers of this initiative have for themselves.This is not to be tart,but to recognize, the continuities across,the length and breadth of such bright ideas/initiative s. Short term,paid lower rates, shakes on rights/ representation.As well as hopeful about progression etc.Surely we should at least start from a position of what do we expect for ourselves and others?
    What kind of world do we want to live in? How do we ensure equity and the good life for all.? It is this lack of vision,aspiration,purpose and ambition that to be honest is shameful. And to my mind,betrays the low expectations of post pandemic world.
    This is particularly concerning as this is from the progressive,self defined,end of the social,civic ,political spectrum.This is not to be personally nasty. But it is to say…….
    Surely in the light of the naked,glaring health care, life and socially , ethnically and poverty/ inequalities.And how they affect/ influence our chances of surviving.Surely we could aspire to more? Especially,given the wealth of our society, concentrated and wallowed in by a small structured elite?
    Are we to Passover/ forget the possibilities of critical engagement in the world? The possibilities of our slogan another World is possible? Surely the core,in various ways and forms, of our work with young people and there communities.?
    Encouraging them to become who they want to be in a world they actively engage and create.
    So let’s chat, row, sulk,giggle and collectively work out what they might look like and work towards it.

    In Struggle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.