Government Cadet Programme Cynically Targeting the Poor


Alex Cunningham MP

“The Tory Government are preying on school children in some of our most deprived areas by setting up more and more military cadet units as a step to recruiting them into the armed forces.”

Labour MP, Alex Cunningham, a longstanding and vocal critic of the recruitment of children into the British army, is worried that young people may be pressured into joining such units and find themselves on a career path they never really wanted.

He has described as cynical the recent announcement that the Cadet Expansion Programme is to focus primarily on state schools in less affluent areas where, through no fault of their own, young people may not have the opportunities those in other areas enjoy as a right.

Britain continues to actively recruit 16-year-olds into its armed forces, and Alex has warned that measures in the Government’s recent Budget aimed at expanding this outdated practice risk not only further isolation on the international stage but betraying the best interests of our young people while misallocating resources in the process.

The UK is the only EU state that recruits from age 16, and is similarly alone amongst the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Yet, while such a policy has been criticised in parliamentary committees, as well as at the UN and by human rights groups, churches and unions alike, the Chancellor recently pledged £50 million to expand the Combined Cadet Force programme into 500 state schools.

Alex said:

“The Government’s commitment to a five-fold increase in the number of cadet units in state schools is bare-faced opportunism, and the irresponsible focus on less affluent areas confirms that the motivation is less about providing opportunities for young people as it is about shoring up reservist numbers following the calamitous failure to attract additional recruits.

“Pledging to spend an extra £50 million on a Cadet Expansion Programme aimed specifically at some of our most disadvantaged young people is a shameful act of desperation, with previous efforts to bolster the recruitment of reservists by lifting the upper age limit as high as 57 having flopped.

“Whilst young people can gain from a military career, recruiting school-leavers diverts them from the broader and superior educational and training opportunities of the civilian system. But more alarmingly, focussing on areas of deprivation will inevitably result in those who under-achieved at secondary school being specifically targeted.

“The Department for Education agrees that the failure of vulnerable young people to achieve critical GCSE-level qualifications harms their prospects for progressing in education or training and finding a job. With the army’s educational offer being limited to low-grade qualifications, the Government’s policy will put more young people at risk of missing out on the opportunity to re-take GCSEs and irreparably hurting their future life chances.

“What Ministers need to do is concentrate on improving standards in schools, rather than writing off thousands of young people prior to dangling the prospect of short-term riches and excitement in front of them when they should know that prospects after they leave the army are extremely limited – particularly for young men who serve as infantry solders and get next to no training or education.”

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