Ministers have been accused of failing to reverse the “rapid decline” in young people registering to vote ahead of the this week’s local elections.
An analysis by the Labour Party has shown the number of 16 and 17 year olds on the electoral register in England is 28% lower in 2017 than it was in 2013.
In December 2013 there were 387,292 in that age group registered to vote. But this had fallen to 279,388 in December 2017.
Cat Smith, Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs, told HuffPost UK the government should have used the National Citizen Service programme to get young people on the electoral register.
The NCS scheme was designed to help young people take part in “social action projects” and has a budget of £1.5bn. It is chaired by former Prime Minister David Cameron.
Almost 400,000 young people have so far taken part in the two to four week programme.
Cat Smith said: “Getting young people to participate in democracy from an early age is a vital step to encourage them to become voters for life.
“It is disappointing that the Conservative Party continues to ignore the rapid decline in the number of 16- and 17-year-olds on the electoral roll, which has resulted from changes introduced by this government.
“The NCS provides great opportunities for young people. However there is a clear role for this government-backed initiative to play in getting young people registered to vote and encouraging them to play an active role in our democracy.”
Young people who register to vote once they turn 16 automatically receive voting rights when they turn 18.
A spokesperson for the NCS said part of its programme includes informing young people about the importance of the democratic process, which can include specific sessions on how to join the electoral register
“To date NCS, with our partner Bite the Ballot, has supported tens of thousands of young people to register to vote. 95% of participants that took part in these sessions registered to vote,” the spokesperson said.
“Last year hundreds of cross-party MPs and local councillors visited NCS with many delivering workshops about the democratic process and how to get involved both locally and nationally.”
In early April, Labour’s Cat Smith asked Conservative Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith in a written parliamentary question whether all young people completing NCS would be encouraged to register to vote ahead of local elections.
Chloe Smith told her: “The Government’s Democratic Engagement Plan, published in December, sets out our ambition to increase democratic participation amongst a wide variety of under-registered groups, including young people. This includes plans for the inaugural National Democracy Week (2-8 July 2018) to provide a focal point for democratic engagement amongst these groups.
“The National Citizen Service Trust (NCS Trust) is a member of the National Democracy Week Council, which is supporting the delivery of National Democracy Week. Cabinet Office officials are working with the Trust to support their planned activities.”
The local elections on Thursday will be a key test for both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May.
Expectations are high that Labour will be able to snatch the Tory strongholds of Barnet, Westminster and Wandsworth in London.
But senior Labour figures have downplayed expectations. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said on Sunday he hoped the party would have a “good night” but admitted he had an “abysmal track record” of predicting local election results.