Coalition Plan Draws Sharp Criticism from Supporters

Social organizations and political parties are sounding the alarm over the new coalition’s proposal to eliminate a national citizen service scheme designed to encourage young people to contribute to society.

One of the cost-saving measures of the new coalition involves discontinuing a community service and youth talent development initiative known as MDT, or “maatschappelijke diensttijd” in Dutch. This project, which was previously allocated a €200 million annual budget by the previous government, resembles a civilian version of national military service, aiming to engage individuals aged 12 to 30 in voluntary work and training. However, scrapping the scheme would result in a projected five-year “savings” of €860 million for the Wilders-led government.

Educational experts and social funding initiatives have criticized this cost-cutting plan, arguing that the MDT not only saves money but also provides valuable social services, helps young people develop skills, and facilitates their entry into high-demand job sectors. Typically, the program entails 80 hours of volunteer work over a six-month period, along with free training, coaching, and the opportunity to explore various activities.

Social Finance NL, a non-governmental social financing initiative, has expressed particular concern. In a recent analysis, it revealed that up to the end of 2023, 126,000 young people had embarked on volunteer projects through the MDT, such as providing language classes for refugees or offering kickboxing lessons to vulnerable children. Nearly a third of participants reported that their voluntary service positively influenced their subsequent job search.

Approximately half of the participants hailed from disadvantaged backgrounds, including early school-leavers, individuals with psychological or behavioral issues, and young people receiving benefits. For some, participation in the program fulfilled their obligation to continue schooling, while for others, it facilitated access to services such as debt management assistance.

“This is a unique program that was created in a unique manner,” Social Finance NL stated in a LinkedIn post. “The results are impressive, especially considering that young people participate voluntarily, choosing to develop themselves while also giving back to others. In times like these, we should cherish programs like this.”

Henri Bontenbal, leader of the CDA party, which played a role in developing the policy in 2017, emphasized the need for the Netherlands to promote social cohesion. He lamented the coalition agreement’s minimal investment in strengthening society, particularly highlighting the decision to scrap the MDT program.

Mirjam Bikker, head of the ChristenUnie party and a co-founder of the policy, described it as a “blind spot” to discard the program and overlook the contributions of volunteers and caregivers in general. She emphasized the importance of this Christian/social perspective in policymaking.

Sanne Bakker, a 23-year-old volunteer participating in the MDT program at an organization that helps people with disabilities enjoy vacations, expressed disappointment over the proposed elimination of the program. She highlighted the personal growth and meaningful connections she had experienced through her volunteer work, emphasizing the importance of maintaining such initiatives.

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