National Service: Should the United Kingdom Reintroduce it?

Picture by: Dundee University (2018). FIXR.

National Service is a period of mandatory service (basic training) in the armed forces or other public services that usually takes 1-2 years to complete from the age of 17-18. There are many views from people who believe that bringing back National Service would be good for the nation, and others who believe it would be debilitating. One of the most potent questions against national service is one of modern-day culture: Do we really want a society in which national service plays such an integral part in young people’s lives?

***Disclaimer – This is a highly subjective and controversial article, and research has been analysed beforehand. Long article containing various opinions and conflicting views***


Military national service is still compulsory in an estimated 72 countries, with a large proportion in Africa, Asia and Europe to present day. Once recruits reach the age of 18, they must participate in 2 years of basic training and / or deployment for their country. This implements self-discipline, structure, routine, learning basic survival skills and more. However, other countries such as Switzerland, Taiwan and Germany use national service in other forms, such as agriculture, public and health services and general community service.

National service provides a basis for potentially bridging divides and learning to the ways of self-discipline from a young age. There are many countries that believe national service needs to become the nations business as a measure of true patriotism. 

“It is not about waving the flag or pledging allegiance. It is about standing up and doing what is required to make your country the very best it can be. A programme of national service provides the means for accomplishing that.” – Anon (2018).

National service could become a form of cheap grace, a generalised call on the public to perform kind gestures as an alternative to a genuine summons for national sacrifice or a fair appointment of burdens among the more or less powerful and the more or less wealthy. But, when this service is viewed as a bridge to genuine political and civic responsibility, it can strengthen a democratic government and foster good values throughout the country.

British History:

National Service used to be a peacetime enlistment. All fit and healthy men between the ages of 18-30 were called to fight for their country. Initially, they only served for 18 months, but in 1950, the Korean War (1950-1953) this was increased to 2 years. From 1949 to 1963 more than 2 million men were called up to the British Armed Forces.


After attending the medical and fitness exams, all recruits had six weeks of basic training, which got them used to military life. Recruits soon began the regular drills, inspections, physical training, rifle practice, polishing boots and equipment, cross-country runs, lectures in the arts of warfare, training in clerical duties, and even special training in technical subjects such as communications and engineering. Many recruits regarded the training as mindless drill aimed at destroying any means of individuality, however, the strict regime actually helped foster a group identity that brought recruits closer together.

Mixed Opinions of Ex-Veterans:

National service was a shock to many new recruits, but others enjoyed the opportunities and experiences they were provided. Bonds formed quickly between men from disparate backgrounds thrown together in strange situations. These bonds were later strengthened by the discipline imposed on them from basic training. Some of the friendships formed during national service would even last a lifetime, whereas others would quickly disperse.

Other Types of National Service:

Military service is not the only type of national service available for young people. There are many countries in which military service is something they can choose from amongst others, such as agriculture, firefighting, police services, health work, rescue or humanitarian work, charity work, postal work and more. 

Compulsory service programmes have existed since the early 20th century and are used worldwide as a way to retain a professional health workforce within countries. National service refers to a countries law or policy that governs mandatory training and / or deployment, in different parts of the country for a certain period of time (Frehywot et al., 2010, pp.364).

‘YouGov’ National Survey:

During 2016, a survey conducted by ‘YouGov,’ found that the British people supported the return of national service, 47% to 43%. Among men 50% are in favour and 43% are against, while women split 45%-43%. Graph as below:

In modern times, the UK has only legislated for national service during times of war – 1616-1920 and 1939-1960. The United Kingdom’s National Service Act imposed military conscription during World War II and was extended afterwards before being abolished in 1960.

Full Survey Report as below –(

Previous Military National Service:

The old national service used to be military, which was a strategy used by countries to build a large and powerful military ready to be deployed in times of war or when the need to protect the sovereignty arose. Military service is a very controversial topic, and multiple objections have been raised against it on both religious and political grounds. This type of national service is not likely to be brought up in modern-day political elections due to how unethical it is. It may be mentioned every now and again, but the likelihood of it going further than a small discussion is minimal.

This type of service would not work in modern-day society. The UK is not involved with any debilitating wars that could have an immediate effect on the country and its people. This service also violates many UK acts / legislation; the main one being the ‘Human Rights Act 1998.’

Modern-Day National Service:

With unemployment rates for 18 years old’s rapidly declining, national service could be the answer to such problems. It would provide young people with workplace experience before entering further or higher education. All job industries that work to create a civil society should provide opportunities for young people as a part of their 2 years of National Service. A lot of other countries require males to do national service, however, females should also have to do it on an equality basis. 

Although, not all compulsory service should be military. There should be other forms available for young people to choose from. Example, administration, charity work, hospitality, healthcare, medical (NHS), engineering, agriculture and environmental work, animal welfare and more. Industries that will be more beneficial to gain experience in for the future. Businesses could also be a part of that as they help to keep the country afloat and financially stable. This could provide young people with a sense of duty and that they have given something back to their country.

A lot of individuals would prefer national service to be an optional service rather than a compulsory one, so perhaps instead of it being ‘National Service,’ it should be altered to ‘National Voluntary Service.’ If this was the case, instead of making it compulsory, those in charge of national service could offer incentives, such as relief from tuition fees or tax allowances etc. It could be a viable alternative.

National Service Advantages And Disadvantages To The UK:

Like many programmes, there will be advantages and disadvantages that come with it. Below are five of each, which provide basic points of what national service could do to the country if implemented.

Potential Advantages to the Country:

(1) Serving Time or Community Service – If a young person has committed a crime before the age of 18, they could potentially use their 2 years of national service as a means of community service or a way to serve their time. It could provide them with a new outlook on life and the discipline they need to get back on track, especially for youth offenders who have not been taught the morals of life due to unforeseen circumstances that have taken place in their lives. 

(2) Emigration – If someone has emigrated from another country to later become an immigrant in the UK, they could use national service as a way to earn their citizenship in the country. 

(3) Provides More Experienced Workers and Fosters Equality – Depending on what sector / industry those who participate in national service go into, it will give them valuable workplace experience, on the job training, structure and perhaps some aspect of discipline later on in life. It also provides young people with the chance to try different careers all before starting university. Another positive advantage to national service is the principle that those eligible, regardless of social status, sex, race, or profession etc, can or will be required to join. This means that there are no special favours or exceptions, except for what is required. In addition to this, it ensures diversity in knowledge and skills from different men and women who have different educational backgrounds.

(4) Higher Levels of Governmental Participation – The public may be more aware and watchful of the governments decisions and could actually hold them to account for their actions. People will seek to understand exactly what their children are going through and how it affects the country. They may seek a greater voice on how their government approaches such problems.

(5) Promotes Unity and National Integration – Citizens of the country may feel a sense of unity when undergoing national service. Not necessarily military, as we need to get with the times. This could give those undergoing the service a sense of nationalism and patriotism (if military), which are important values. People will also learn how to work together to achieve a common goal, which is exceptionally handy in the workplace. As a result, it encourages positive relationships between those from different ethnic groups and races.

Potential Disadvantages to the Country:

(1) Violation of Human Rights – If national service becomes compulsory within the UK, then it could take away the ‘Freedom of Choice,’ for young people, which violates the ‘Human Rights Act 1998.’ (Protection against slavery and forced labour: you should not be treated like a slave or be subjected to forced labour).

(2) Compromises Quality of Service and Security to the Nation (using military service as an example). For those who are not cut out or have the heart for military service, how will they function carrying out orders and undergoing the intense training? This can compromise operations and have a negative impact overall.

(3) Military Service Could Raise Mental Health Problems – If military service was implemented and made compulsory within the country, the likelihood that young people gain some form of mental illness is very high, as the situations they are placed in would be dangerous. Whether it is a mental, physical or psychological issue, not everyone is fit to meet the physical and mental demands of the job. Therefore, factors such as depression and anxiety must be carefully considered. A study conducted by the ‘Anxiety and Depression Association of America‘ (2014-2015) showed that approximately 40,000 military members who returned from war in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). That rate was three times higher among those who were deployed in combat than those who were not deployed.

(4) It Is Very Time Consuming and There Is A Lack of Freedom – Depending on what sector young people go into and how long national service will take, will depend on how much free-time they get. Say for example, national service was 2 years, but training took at least 6 months to complete beforehand, young people would not get a lot of free-time for themselves between those two time periods. A good example of this would be arborticulture. Basic and theoretical training needs to take place before young people can fell trees with dangerous pieces of equipment.

(5) Finances – There will always be costs associated with volunteering. Looking at the Great British Pound’s (GBP) value, can we inflate the benefits of volunteering? In terms of national service, the task of estimating costs is a bit more manageable given that the monetary costs of recruiting could be traced back to public budgets. What must be taken into consideration is how much the programme (NS) will cost annually, what administrative and support costs will be needed for organisations, and what additional costs will be needed for the volunteers in terms of accommodation, transportation and other incidentals. 

National Voluntary Service,’ Instead of National Service:

National voluntary service (NVS) would be more beneficial to modern-day society because it gives young people the choice of entry. They would not be forced to participate in something they did not want to, and they would be given the chance to experience more than one industry, if their original choice was not what their skills set were suited to. 

This could be very beneficial for young people who do not have the skills or qualifications necessary to enter further or higher education. It provides them with the basic lessons and workplace experience to eventually progress further. This could be further into the workplace or into education.

A volunteer would always make the better option and could be more trustworthy in difficult or pressurising situations. Attitude to work would be better as well, as it is something that they have signed up to do off their own accord. People being forced to do something will result in a begrudging performance and may lack the will to be professional in said duties.

Youth Offenders:

National voluntary service should be recommended to those who are on the youth offenders list, as they are often deprived of such opportunities. There should be no exceptions as to what they can enter. If the UK offers voluntary services in most sectors, then they should be offered to these young people as well. Due to committing a crime or not being taught the basic fundamentals of what is ‘right or wrong,’ they are very often overlooked and are expected to look out for themselves, despite having little to no education, no workplace experience or valuable skills to offer.

The government and UK organisations should offer this service to these young people regardless of what criminal convictions they might have. However, others may disagree and support that this service should only be offered to youth offenders if they are showing regret for their actions. If they feel no regret over their actions, then what is the point? Consequently, offering national voluntary service to those who feel no regret over their actions could reinforce bad behaviour as a reward for said behaviour instead of a consequence.

National Voluntary Service (NVS) could keep them out of trouble and potentially prevent further illegal activities. It would place them back onto the ‘right‘ track within society. Nonetheless, it is something that should be carefully considered beforehand.

How Could National Service Help Young People?

It could teach young people a range of different skills depending on what type of service or industry they enter. Self-discipline, self-growth and self-reliance would be three benefits for the individual and society to uphold. It could also help people work within a team, provide them with a sense of achievement and respect for not only themselves, but other people too.

According to (Bonnie et al., 2015, pp.139), volunteering during adolescence and young adulthood is associated with improved health and well-being. Thus, national service could contribute to educational and occupational development. However, military service has both positive and negative effects on the health, safety, and well-being of young adults, with positive effects relating to educational and occupational development, and negative effects relating to military deployment, as well as difficulties with post-military transition.

Author on Huffpost, Kevin Godlington (2014), mentions how young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETS), often become lifelong dependents of the country due to not taking earning or training seriously, which is a problem for the economy. He emphasis’s that the class divide between young people is not reducing, young people do not mix outside their social groups as much as they should, leading to segregation, laziness and listless behavior not conducive with seeking out employment or remaining with courses to secure qualifications. The military has proven itself repeatedly to remove all social divisions between the classes. Benefits include millions of hours of community service throughout the country, young people will have personally invested hard work into their communities, forging respect, mutual understanding, and breaking class borders and divides.

Selflessness, Over Selfishness:

National service could also help young people to become more selfless, instead of selfish. We live in a society where we are expected to get something in return for hard work, instead of just being satisfied with what has been completed. This outlook is unhealthy and very greedy. It gives that person a negative outlook and encourages a self-absorbed behaviour. 

Participating in national service could provide young people with the chance to give back to their community and on a bigger scale, their country. It is a selfless act to improve the social, political and economic system within the UK, which could later benefit future generations.

Conflicting Views:

There are many individuals who are for and against national service. (I have promised anonymity for a few individuals). See views as below:

Views For National Service:

1) “I totally agree with it, but feel it would not work. I think that we have gone too far down the lack of basic discipline in this country and there is a high percentage of complete apathy. All those ‘big boys’ that want to fight outside the pub on a Friday night would not be able to take the discipline or behaviourist training that is required to turn a civilian into a soldier…male or female. I also feel that there are too many young people asking “why” and saying “no” in our current culture. This has been exonerated by the release of the new recruitment video. There needs to be compliance to basic life before any type of military discipline or training starts to work.” – Former UK soldier of 8 years, Darren Pearson (2018).


2) “I think national service has its pros and cons. It does consume a lot of valuable time. Also, many of the skills taught in the army are nowhere near as useful in civilian life as they are advertised to be (e.g. leadership skills etc. that are not applicable in private economy). However, the social skills learned can be very valuable. Advantages include, being able to meet new people from various backgrounds. If you are lucky enough to have an interesting troop allocation, the technical skills can be useful. Lots of social skills will be learnt and it gives people from all backgrounds equal opportunities/perspectives. All in all I am for national service, however the system should be adjusted to 21st century society.” -Switzerland Air Force; National Service Private, Alex Berger (2018).


3) “I prefer the system they have in Switzerland. You have a choice of army or forestry. It may not work here, but why not offer a choice of the armed forces or the community? With either route, you get experience of working life before university. That way those who do not know what to do, have more time to choose what they want to do before changing to another subject or dropping out halfway through. National service does not have to be military, service to the nation can take various forms.” – Qualification and Quality Consultant, Nigel Smith (2018).


4) “I personally think it is a great idea. Especially kids going off the rails to install a bit of discipline in them. I watch my stepson grow so much in the army, so it would definitely be a way to earn respect for themselves.” – Anon (2018).


5) “I think in some cases, yes, people should have to undertake national service, however, there are also people that cannot do it for reasons such as mental or physical disability. Also, if people immigrate to the UK, they should have to do it to show willingness that they are going to be here for a legitimate reason.” – BSc Animal Welfare Student, Charlie Applegate (2018).

Views Against National Service:

1) “I do not like the idea of military national service because people should not be forced to do something they do not want to do. Especially when it can have dire consequences to their mental or physical state. On the other hand, if it was completely voluntary, I would agree with it. With all these health requirements to enter the army, if you force someone who is generally fragile and sensitive, and knows that they would not be able to handle military life, are you not then putting everyone else’s life at risk as well and knowingly forcing a future debilitating mental state on them?” – BSc Animal Welfare Student, Denise Rutter (2018).


2) “It costs an estimate of £34,000 to train an infantryman. Turning even half the 720,000 people who turn 18 every year into useful soldiers represents a huge strain on the UK’s current financial situation. It is a big assumption that you would gain ‘useful’ soldiers at the end of this expensive process. For this and many more reasons, it makes no financial sense to reintroduce conscription.” – The Metro Author, David Sanders (2015). 


3) “I do not think anything like national service should be compulsory. People who opt in do better. Forced never really works to me otherwise people bear it and as soon as it is over, never do anything they are expected to. Waste of time, effort and money for people being forced and those who have to train them. If you asked a 40 year old to do national service, would it be okay? Would it be okay to make a 65 year old do it? What about a 5 year old? Why do we feel that people between 13-25 need to be controlled constantly? If people are struggling, and of course people do struggle at all ages, you do not take away choices, you support them to overcome obstacles. For some, national service might do wonders but let people choose it. It should not be forced.” – Anon (2018).


4) National service does consume a lot of valuable time. Also, many of the skills taught in the army are nowhere near as useful in civilian life as they are advertised to be (e.g. leadership skills etc. that are not applicable in private economy.) It also seems outdated and a bit unfair that only men have to do national service. Women can do it on a voluntary basis. I do not think other countries should have mandatory military national service, especially not countries that are involved in armed conflict. A more general, modern form of national service might be worth looking into though.” –  Switzerland Air Force; National Service Private, Alex Berger (2018).


5) “I think national service is something best left in the past. We used it during world war two, when things were really bad and soldiers were needed, but we do not have any reason to use it unless it is for political advantage. Yes, young people need discipline, but that is something their parents can provide. I do not believe sending a young person away for two years to do something that they may not want to do in the future is right. It takes away the freedom of choice. Do we really want that for younger generations?” Anon (2018).

The Ethical Implications Of National Service:

Ethics must be taken into consideration when developing any programme, especially if it puts a person in a dangerous situation. Below are the ethical implications of optional and compulsory national service:

Compulsory Conscription:

Many people presume that conscription would occur in either a constitutional republic or constitutional monarchy, where the rights of the government are limited. In that context, conscription is ‘unethical‘ and is a breach of rights.

According to Quora Contributor Andrew Chan (2016), conscription to many is involuntary servitude, a violation of human rights (forced labour), and immoral. In conscription, someone is forced to commit to a job that they may not want to do or do not agree with. If they do not commit to the job, then it could result in heavy fines or imprisonment. Would this then mean that compulsory conscription is technically supporting a milder form of slavery?

Conscription could also be viewed as a form of socialism, as it is opposed to capitalism and the free-market. Many people believe countries that claim to have capitalist values while supporting conscription may actually be committing hypocrisy, as conscription is essentially stealing from the individuals to give to the collective. It takes the autonomy, time, life and limb of the individual and gives it to the collective. It is a time where you have no control over your own life.

Optional National Service:

If national service was optional, it could be considered ethical, as it would be a way to educate young people in questions of whatever sector they decide to enter, if more than one was offered other than military service. 


National Service has an array of conflicting views. Some people would prefer if it was a voluntary service, however, others would prefer it to remain compulsory and only be for those who are in need of discipline, aka – youth offenders. There are a range of reasons as to why it would be a positive and negative decision to implement it into the UK, but overall, the general consensus is that national service forces people to do something that they do not want to do. 

Thank you to everyone who provided their input and opinions on this subject and thank you for taking the time to read this.

What are your thoughts?


I am a freelance writer and aspiring author. My passion lies within UK adult education, stigmatised topics and mental health, however, I aim to keep an open mind.

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