Hopefully we are slowly coming through this terrible outbreak of a virus that has tragically cost so many lives and put our society, our country, and every country at a standstill. Many experts and pundits now predict that we will soon plunge into the worst economic depression for 100 years. This is as well as combatting the growing threat of climate change. For my part I am an optimist and I don’t believe that the people of our nation are willing to let this happen without a fight.
My experience in public life, particularly the world of education, skills and training of young people, suggests that younger people may well be forced to bear the brunt of the coming storm, with fewer opportunities and jobs on offer.
For some time now, I have been speaking up in Parliament and across Huddersfield for a ‘Green National Service’ which would be made available to young people across the country after they complete their formal education, be that at age 16, 18, or 21. I have been inspired by the approach of other countries; Germany offers young people a voluntary environmental year which involves working on an environmental project alongside seminars about green issues, whilst the U.S. has the peace corps.
In our country, I envision a year-long scheme which pairs young people with projects that range from cultivating rewilding sites to working with major corporations to improve their carbon footprint. There will be something for every interest, skill level and career aspiration, with every participant receiving a wage or stipend to cover their costs. Tailored training on key skills, competences and environmental sector knowledge will be provided, equipping young people for their future careers.
Why a specifically green national service? Because young people care passionately about the environment. Both the climate strikes in Huddersfield and meeting Greta Thunberg in Parliament have brought this home to me in a very vivid way. In constructing a scheme to improve our young people’s futures, it makes sense to address of one the biggest threats to that future: the climate crisis. Young people are determined to protect the environment and if we as politicians can provide them with an outlet to do that in a systematic way, the result could be revolutionary.
Of course, such a scheme would need funding. I think a windfall profit tax is the way to do this, targeting companies with a high turnover who – through no plotting or planning of their own – have done especially well during this crisis. When I first came into Parliament as a young MP, everyone was surprised by the amount that Margaret Thatcher’s windfall profit tax on banks made. This could be a simple method to address the unfairness in our taxation system and the diversion of resources away from young people in recent years, giving back to them what they are due.
The climate crisis requires industries to mobilise and modernise. From manufacturing, to energy and utilities, transportation to farming and conservation, sectors and professions across the UK are in dire need of climate change specialisms. A ‘Green National Service’ would bridge the gap between the opportunities that young people need and the needs of Britain’s businesses.
Covid-19 has totally altered so many elements of our society. Life after Covid cannot afford to be a return to the former ways of doing things – for the sake of our young people, our environment and our economy. Politicians must go beyond providing assurances for a better future after this outbreak and begin to develop and implement concrete proposal. I believe young people and defining their role in combatting the climate crisis should be at the top of the list of priorities.