The voting age should be lowered to 16 and young people allowed to stand as MPs and councillors at 18, a new study into voter apathy suggests.
A report published today by the Carnegie UK Trust calls for the changes to the law, with lessons in citizenship in primary schools and other radical measures, to combat poor turn-out in elections.
Carnegie, which is one of Britain's oldest trusts and distributes £1m in grants every year, recommends that legislation be brought forward to make youth participation in public bodies legally enforceable. Young people should have the right to become school governors, trustees of voluntary groups and members of NHS trusts, the report states.
It found that while the under-18s are increasing their interest and activism in issues such as the environment and human rights, their declining involvement with traditional politics poses a threat to democracy.
To ensure that all schools recognise the value of such participation, Ofsted should inspect pupil-involvement as part of its remit when visiting schools.
The report praises the creation of the UK Youth Parliament, but says there are problems that limit youth participation across the country. Most funding for projects is one-off or short-term and poorer children, ethnic minorities and those in rural areas are often excluded.
It calls for a "House of Youths", which would be consulted before Bills were passed and urges all government departments to produce action plans to consult youth groups.
Ravi Gurumurthy, chairman of the Carnegie Young People Initiative and a Downing Street adviser, said: "The message from our research is that [the youth] are keen to be party of a genuine democratic process but are cynical about the system."