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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July, 2005, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
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Teenagers are to be offered financial incentives not to behave badly - as the government puts forward plans for modernising youth services.

Teenagers from low-income families could receive 12 per month on an "opportunity card", to spend on activities such as sport and music.

The card would also entitle them to discounts in some high street shops.

But if young people were guilty of anti-social behaviour they would lose access to the card.

'Respect'

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that encouraging "respect" among young people - and tackling yobbish behaviour - would be a priority of this government.

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And a Green Paper launched by the Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office puts forward ways in which teenagers might be encouraged to take part in "positive" leisure activities.

Pilot schemes in eight areas in England, backed by 45m, will develop facilities and support for young people - with the 12 per month credits on opportunity cards for 13 to 16-year-olds who qualify for free school meals.

The Home Office Minister for Active Citizenship, Hazel Blears, said this could be an incentive for well-behaved youngsters and had a "sense of fairness".

"Decent young people with not a lot of money say to me that it sometimes seems that people who behave badly get access to a range of interesting things to do, while they can end up just staying at home watching television," said Ms Blears.

'Fairness'

The opportunity cards will be available for 13 to 19-year-olds in the pilot areas - with an initial 12 worth of credits for everyone, which parents or local authorities could top up.

The government's discussion paper, Youth Matters, suggests such top-ups could be rewards for volunteering, attainment or attendance.

As a disincentive, "unacceptable and anti-social behaviour" would lead to the card being suspended or withdrawn.

"Putting money on the card is about opening up opportunities for those who otherwise couldn't afford them," said the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, Beverley Hughes.

"Whether it's sport, drama or playing in a band, opportunities of that kind can really add to children's level of attainment and can be so powerful in terms of building confidence and self-esteem," she said.

'Ethical' shopping

Opportunity cards are intended to give young people discounts for "sports, culture and recreational activities, subject to an ethical framework".

The cards will have photographs and can be used as proof-of-age, but the ministers said they would not become "quasi ID cards".

The introduction of financial support for younger teenagers follows the national roll-out of the educational maintenance allowance, which provides up to 30 per week to keep older teenagers in education.

Ms Hughes also put the youth service proposals in the wider context of plans for extended schools, offering activities before and after the school day.

The Green Paper emphasises the need to involve young people in decisions about the type of youth services there will be.

Over the past year, inspection body Ofsted has been critical of some existing services.

It inspected youth services in 31 areas during 2004. It found that eight were very good or good but another eight (about a quarter) were judged to be inadequate, while 15 were adequate.

The Conservative education spokesman, David Cameron, criticised the proposals as over-complicated and "muddled".

"Policy for young people should have two main aims. Firstly, to ensure they have access to a wide range of worthwhile activities, sports and youth clubs, and secondly to ensure there is a high-quality system of universal independent advice and guidance about careers, training and education.

"Today's Green paper relies on over-complicated gimmicks for the first, and is desperately muddled about the second," he said.

The Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, Edward Davey, attacked "glaring weaknesses in these ideas".

"It is unclear how the impartiality of careers advice will be guaranteed if schools and colleges directly commission advice, and confusion continues over the relationship between children's trusts and local authorities," said Mr Davey.


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SEE ALSO:
'Respect' key to Blair third term
17 May 05 |  UK Politics
Youth services are 'inadequate'
10 May 05 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Youth crime fight plan launched
21 Dec 04 |  Scotland
Top mark for county youth service
12 Dec 04 |  Derbyshire


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