Prince Charles is to mark his 65th birthday with a radical attempt to force the three main party leaders to help him stop a ‘lost generation’ of young people drifting into crime and unemployment.
In a highly unusual move, the Prince will be joined this week by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to try to recruit a ‘community army’ of nearly two million young people.
The Prince regards this as the most important event surrounding his landmark birthday.
Announcing the initiative in today’s Mail on Sunday, the Prince writes that youngsters will be encouraged to take part in a range of activities – from helping the elderly and disabled to joining the scouts or guides and clearing up the countryside.
In return they may be rewarded with better chances of finding work or getting a promotion. The Prince wants concrete recognition for those who have served the community, including that they be put to the front in competition for jobs.
Well-placed sources say his Step Up 2 Serve (SU2S) campaign is the product of years of frustration that policies for the young are changed each time one political party replaces another in government.
The SU2S project, which will cost £4 million over seven years, is designed to put an end to that through securing the backing of all three leaders of the main parties.
The costs will be shared between private business, donors and the taxpayer.
The scheme is also a sign of the Prince’s determination to show he is ready to be an active, engaged monarch when he succeeds the Queen.
He has previously been accused of ‘meddling’ in political affairs and pressuring Ministers to back his causes. But by getting the support of all three leaders for SU2S, he aims to show he is a unifying political force.
He also hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka this weekend, indicating his intention to play a high- profile role in both domestic and foreign affairs.
The Prince said he hopes SU2S will reduce the danger that young people join street gangs, and revive the tradition where it was a ‘rite of passage of youth’ to be active on behalf of the community.
To make the scheme work he will call for:
Schools to make community activities part of their curriculum.
Ofsted education inspectors to give bonus points to schools who encourage volunteering.
Employers to look favourably on job applicants who have taken part in voluntary service.
Community participation to form part of apprenticeship schemes.
The Prince says he was moved to act by tragedies such as the brutal killing of 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen in 2008. Jimmy bled to death in the arms of his brother Tommy after Jake Fahri, then 19, hurled a Pyrex dish at him in a bakery. The dish shattered, severing the arteries in his neck.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, the Prince says: ‘Sitting listening to families whose children have been murdered through street violence, I found it impossible to ignore their pleas for help in finding solutions to a problem which has blighted too many lives.
‘I often reflect on the bravery and courage of Barry and Margaret Mizen [Jimmy’s parents]. They are convinced – as I have been for the past 40 years – that part of the solution is in providing more structured activities for young people.’
He argues that tragedies such as the murder of Jimmy are ‘the extreme result of too many young people no longer guided through a rite of passage’ – a chance to be involved in the community.
It was the Mizens, and others like them, who persuaded him to try to find a lasting remedy.
‘That is why I am joining the leaders of Britain, including David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, together with 50 young people, at Buckingham Palace to launch a pledge campaign (on Twitter), #iwill, through Step Up 2 Serve.
‘This long-term campaign, supported by all sectors of society and involving faith and political leaders, education, business, trade unions and the voluntary sector, has a unifying vision.’
That vision is to increase the number of people aged ten to 20 who take part in community or volunteering activities, raising it from the current estimated 29 per cent to 50 per cent.
That would mean an extra 1.7 million young recruits.
He has studied similar schemes in parts of the US, such as California, where the figure is already around 50 per cent, and in Canada, where it is nearly 60 per cent. The Prince also wants more older people to step forward to organise activities as, for example, Scout and Guide leaders.
He writes: ‘I have long believed we are failing to do enough to unlock their talent and unleash their energies to help tackle all sorts of challenges in our society. They are the solution to so much and yet, too frequently, are seen as the problem.
‘All over our country are thousands of lonely old people who need company, younger children who need alternatives to hanging about on the street corner, crucial environmental work that needs doing and local causes that need espousing.’
‘We must enlist thousands more adults to help support and motivate younger people in their social action and to encourage those who have already been involved to engage and lead others.’
‘The Confederation of British Industry recently reported that employers needed young people who were optimistic, determined and emotionally intelligent – and research shows that young people who take on challenging volunteering activities increase all those character traits and virtues.’
The Prince sees SU2S as just as important a venture as his highly praised Prince’s Trust scheme, which has helped 160,000 disadvantaged young people gain job skills.
Information on how to get involved in the community will be available on the SU2S website.