Supporters slam coalition plans to stop youth service scheme

Project encouraging young to give back to be scrapped Photo:

Social organisations and political parties have raised the alarm at the new coalition’s plans to scrap a national citizen service scheme aimed at encouraging young people to give back to society.

One of the budgetary savings of the new coalition is to scrap a community service and youth talent develoment plan known as MDT or maatschappelijke diensttijd in Dutch.

The project, which had a €200 million annual budget pledge from the previous government, is a kind of civilian version of national military service, aiming to involve 12 to 30-year-olds in voluntary work and training. But scrapping the scheme books the Wilders-led government a five-year “saving” of €860 million.

Educational experts and social funding initiatives have criticised the cost-cutting plan, claiming the MDT saves more money than it costs by providing social services, helping young people grow their skills and eventually enter jobs where manpower is desperately needed. It typically involves 80 hours of volunteer work in a six-month period, with free training and coaching and a chance to try two activities.

Social Finance NL, a non-governmental social financing initiative, is particularly concerned. It referred to a recent analysis that found that 126,000 young people up to the end of 2023 had begun a volunteer project such as offering refugees language classes or giving kickboxing lessons to vulnerable children. Almost a third of them said the voluntary service had a positive effect on finding a job afterwards.

Around half of participants were from disadvantaged groups, such as early school-leavers, those with psychological or behavioural issues and young people on benefits. Around a sixth of participants could take part to fulfill their obligation to continue schooling, and it meant that some could access services such as help to manage debts.

“This is a unique programme that is also unique in the way that it was created,” Social Finance NL said in a post on LinkedIn. “The results are impressive, especially when you realise that young people take part voluntarily and choose to develop themselves but also give back to other people. In times like these, we should cherish this kind of programme.”

Henri Bontenbal, leader of the CDA which helped develop the policy in 2017, said the Netherlands needs to promote social cohesion. “The saddest thing about the coalition accord is that invests very little in making society stronger,” he said in a parliamentary debate this week.

“In my eyes, there’s something cold-hearted about it. And the most telling example is scrapping the MDT. More than 100,000 young people have successfully taken part in it, a quarter of them are still active at the organisation where they volunteered, and it’s a beautiful thing that makes society stronger.”

Blind spot

Mirjam Bikker, head of the ChristenUnie party, also joint founder of the policy, said it was a “blind spot” to jettison it, as well as ignoring the work of volunteers and carers in general. “This is the Christian/social thinking that I’ve heard [NSC leader Pieter] Omtzigt talking about so often,” she said.

Sanne Bakker, 23, who is volunteering through the MDT at an organisation that helps people with disabilities go on holiday, told Hart van Nederland scrapping the programme was bad news.

“I learned to get out of my bubble,” she said. “There are lots of people with disabilities who really like contact with younger people. So this would be a real shame.”

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