Millions of children and young people will be encouraged to take part in volunteering in their community under a new fund launched by the Government tomorrow.
The £6m Youth Social Action Journey Fund will pay for extra places for 10- to 20-year-olds in existing youth groups, and will encourage businesses and charities to set up new ways youngsters can take part in activities for the good of their communities. Young people will also be encouraged to join national organisations such as the Scouts, Brownies, Guides and the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme.
Only 29 per cent of young people are engaged in volunteering in the UK, compared with more than 50 per cent in Canada. But the lower figure does not represent unwillingness to take part, because there are long waiting lists at some of the leading voluntary groups.
Nick Hurd, the minister for Civil Society, said the money, spread over two years, would help young people improve their own lives as well as those of others. The Government is inviting bids from charities, social enterprises and businesses that already run high-quality programmes for young people, before the closing date of 17 November.
Mr Hurd said: "We want to create a social action journey that every young person can easily get involved with and feel valued, hone their skills, make new friends and ultimately benefit their community.
"I've created this £6m fund to support organisations that offer more young people places on their fantastic programmes, benefiting the community as well as the young person themselves and make it easier for young people to progress onto the next challenging experience."
Next month, Mr Hurd, Prince Charles and David Cameron will attend the official launch of the Campaign for Youth Social Action. First unveiled by the prince in June, it is designed to double the number of young people volunteering to more than 50 per cent – or about 4.2 million. Dame Julia Cleverdon, whose review into the issue led to the setting up of the campaign, and who chairs the young teachers' scheme Teach First, said the UK had a lot to learn from Canada, where 58 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds volunteer. This was, she said, in part due to the efforts of Craig Kielburger, who at the age of 12, in 1995, set up Free the Children, with some of his fellow pupils, to fight child labour worldwide.
The charity is now a major international force. Dame Julia said she hoped the Campaign for Youth Social Action would encourage another school pupil to create a similar global movement.
Dame Julia, who was speaking at an awards ceremony for Giving Nation, which runs a competition for schoolchildren who fund-raise and volunteer in their local communities, said she had encountered a "wall of apathy and nightmare" from some quarters in her efforts to get the new campaign up and running, but had nevertheless pulled together a "great campaign".
She said: "Young people who have themselves faced tough things are more resilient, more likely to succeed. It is not about saying that matters, failing is actually rather good. It is failing to pick yourself up and having another shot that is the problem.
"Great social action is practical action in the service of others, for a team benefit. It is for individuals, of course, you feel good … it warms the cockles of your heart. But it isn't just for us – it is about that community, that hospice, those people.
"I believe that by 2020 we are going to get 50 per cent of young people engaged in doing something for the benefit of others."
Dame Julia added: "The world is changed in two different ways, just as there are two different ways of making coffee. You can make coffee in a cafetière, plunging the message down and crushing the grounds below. Imposing from the top a vision that everybody has got to volunteer – that is not the way to do it. Or you can make coffee with a percolator, allowing the coffee to rise up from the bottom. The world is changed not by plunging but by percolating."
The Scout Association said it had 38,000 girls and boys waiting to join the scouts, and that the extra money would help create new places. Matt Hyde, chief executive of the Scout Association, said: "Scouting knows the importance of young people undertaking social action. We have over 100 years' experience of service of others. We know this activity equips young people with important skills and makes a positive difference to communities.
"We want to increase the quantity and quality of these opportunities to all parts of society as we know non-formal learning improves life chances. To do this we need more volunteers to eliminate the 38,000 people on our waiting lists and to extend Scouting into new areas."
Young people can also take part in the National Citizen Service (NCS), which runs three-week summer programmes for 16- to 17-year-olds to learn about enterprise, team-building and volunteering.
Since 2011 more than 65,000 young people have taken part in the programme, which also includes 30 hours of community work. In a recent evaluation, 71 per cent of participants said that they were more likely to help out in the future after having taken part in the NCS.