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Labour woos youth vote

Labour is to consider creating a Minister for Youth as part of its new policy on the under-25 age group.

This week the party's Youth Task Group met for the first time to consider exactly how it will proceed in formulating a new policy for the next election manifesto.

Shadow education secretary David Blunkett has already made clear his interest in a youth policy, floating the idea of a Citizens' Service with nominal pay for those who wanted to join. Launching the Task Group, he stressed that any citizens' service would be voluntary rather than compulsory.

Other ideas likely to find favour with the Task Group are the new post of Minister for Youth - preferably featuring a younger MP - and putting the youth service on a more secure statutory footing. Mr Blunkett said the service was still suffering from severe cuts, with Pounds 274 million spent during 1992-93, but estimated out-turn for the following year only Pounds 220m.

Shadow education minister Peter Kilfoyle, who will be leading the group, said they wanted to get the views of a wide variety of young people.

"That includes New Age travellers, eco-warriors, whatever. They are people who have shown an interest in what is going on in the world. Our problem is (we are) not harnessing their energies and abilities. We will also be talking to regular organisations, whether the Boys' Brigade or Girl Guides. We'll speak to anybody and everybody."

The Task Force is intended to look at broad policy areas, including education and training, employment, housing, health law, Europe, and various leisure activities.

Although it is not yet known how long it will take before a report is prepared, it is likely to be a prolonged project, since most of the subjects under consideration will have to be discussed with the relevant Labour departments before any policy is decided.

Members of the steering group include Eluned Morgan, the youngest member of the European Parliament, backbenchers Steve Byers and Greg Pope, Scottish education spokeswoman Maria Fyfe, Doug Nicholls, general secretary of the Community and Youth Workers' Union, a former chief education officer, and representatives from Labour youth groups.

The task group remit pointed out that 2.5 million first-time voters did not turn out for the last general election, which raises serious concerns for the future of democracy. It was essential to "encourage and develop" active participation of young people.

Mr Blunkett said: "The future for young people depends on society being willing to commit itself to having jobs, education and training and having some hope for the 750,000 young people between 16 and 24 who have no job, no training scheme and are not in further or higher education. We have a potential disaster of enormous proportions."

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