Monday, June 11, 2007

Can compulsory work be voluntary?

That was the extraordinary question asked by BBC1's Breakast today. I have not been able to find anything on the web about it, but there is this story from January about David Cameron suggesting compulsory community service for students. So from memory, the discussion this morning was about a government proposal to make voluntary service for students compulsory and part of a tax credit regime. ...Or something like that. Sorry about the vagueness.

The idea sparked a lively VoxPop which included one astute young man calling the idea "slavery". Quite right.

There was then a studio discussion with a representative from the Prince's Trust and Aki Nawaz. The latter had some spiky views and was described simply as a "political activist". On googling him, he turns out to be a rapper and director of Nation records.

Anyway, what of it? Well, you can't have compulsory voluntary work. Or, indeed, voluntary compulsory work. It's just silly linguistics. You can have compulsory community work, whether it is unpaid or done in return for tax credits.

I am generally very sceptical about the idea for students, or those around University age. One's late teens are about the only time of one's life when you can let your hair down and do what you want. Over the years, this freedom has become more and more trammelled in by things like tuition fees, student loans, pressure to perform etc. If you don't have some freedom at that age, you don't actually develop properly and find out who exactly you are. Then, problems later on follow. Putting yet another imperative on the young is just silly. It is typical that David Cameron supports this proposal. It is a eye catching media-type idea , but in fact it is nanny-statism at its worst.

If people want to do volunteering then that is true volunteering. A volunteer is worth twenty pressed men. (I'm rambling - I'll stop soon). The moment you start putting some compulsion on it, it becomes like most other things in society today - pressurised.


  1. "Compulsory volunatry work"?

    Oh God. It's an Orwellian nightmare, cooked up in the Ministry of Truth.

  2. Why not just call compulsory work by its real name: Slavery?