Urgent Government Support Needed to Realise Cross-Party Ambitions for Youth Volunteering

A new Demos report, supported by Generation Change, calls for concerted Government action to support the youth social action sector – to build on young people’s huge appetite to contribute and enable them to affect change.

It warns that the ambition of the Step Up to Serve Campaign – which was founded in 2013 with cross-party backing – to involve over 60 per cent of young people in high quality social action by 2020, is at risk of not being realised unless it is prioritised by the Government under a cross-departmental national strategy.

While the take-up of social action has been strong over the last Parliament, the report says more needs to be done to ensure young people’s enduring interest in social action is sustained and put to effective use in the community.

One of the report’s bold proposals calls for the establishment of full-time social action ‘service year’ placements, as an alternative pathway for school leavers. This could replace traditional gap years with a more productive, non-formal type of education and voluntary work, building important new skills while addressing social challenges.

It also recommends the Government launches an accredited social action ‘GiveBacc’ programme, to run alongside the English Baccalaureate, signalling to universities and employers that young people had contributed 50 hours of high quality community service.

Bringing together all the evidence in favour of the ‘double benefit’ of youth social action, including the findings of 20 new structured interviews with key sector figures and business leaders, Service Nation 2020 shows how a growing evidence base has made the case for supporting the sector increasingly clear.

It shows that, if properly harnessed, these types of civic activities can offer a range of benefits to young people and society as a whole, including:

  • Helping young people to build the strong character attributes and ‘soft’ skills shown to help improve their attainment prospects and employability;
  • Imbuing young people with a sense of achievement, empowerment and worth – which can reduce their vulnerability to mental health issues;
  • Encouraging integration and social cohesion through exposing young people to more diverse work and social networks; and
  • Enabling youth to deliver real benefits to their local communities and society as a whole, and instilling within them an increased likelihood of volunteering in the future.


To reach the 60 per cent Step Up to Serve target by 2020, and ensure the recognised advantages of youth social action can benefit more young people and communities, Service Nation 2020 recommends the Government:

  1. Leads on developing a comprehensive, cross-departmental five-year national strategy for youth social action, through the Office of Civil Society
  2. Establishes an independent social action coordinating body to implement this strategy – coordinating a youth social action fund that would bring together contributions from public and private sectors, administering competitive strategic grants, and supporting central Government departments and local authorities to encourage youth social action to be incorporated in more policy areas
  3. Embeds social action into schools, through a social action ‘GiveBacc’ to run alongside the English Baccalaureate or encouraging students to take part in addition to their work experience placements. In turn, schools’ provision of these opportunities should be assessed by Ofsted and monitored by the Government through the School Census and the National Pupil Database
  4. Champions the development of full-time social action “service year” placements as an alternative pathway for school-leavers, which could also potentially count towards University credit
  5. Supports the creation of a quality mark for social action provision, which would formally recognise organisations focused on the important task of measuring impact

Commenting on the findings, the report’s author and Head of Citizenship at Demos, Jonathan Birdwell, said:

“It is incredibly encouraging to see the enormous level of appetite amongst young people to give back to their communities, and we have seen some great support for youth social action over the past Parliamentary term from all sides of politics. But, as we edge ever-closer to 2020, it is becoming increasingly clear that the target of engaging 60 per cent of youth in high quality social action projects will simply never be realised without decisive support from this Government. In particular, it is essential that we see the development of a cross-departmental national strategy and an independent coordination body to implement it, if we want to bring long-term sustainability to a sector that offers such extensive benefits to individuals and society as a whole.”


Adam O’Boyle, Co-Chair of Generation Change, said:

“This Government has made a commitment to significantly grow the number of young people taking part in social action by 2020. We have seen some positive steps towards this, but a lot more investment is needed in order to take advantage of the unprecedented consensus and support in the voluntary, education and business sectors for achieving this goal. Generation Change is calling on the government to create more opportunities for young people to volunteer before and after they take part in National Citizen Service, for example by creating a ‘GiveBacc’ for schools and by creating a new ‘service year’ status for young people doing full-time ‘gap-year’ style volunteering programmes.”



Sophie Gaston, Press and Communications Manager, Demos
[email protected]
ph. 0207 367 6325 (Out of Hours: 074727