Letter: We're no underclass - just persecuted for being poor

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Sir: I agree with Peter Mandelson that to bring the socially excluded into the mainstream of society is the greatest challenge we face.

The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services has long argued for greater co-operation between government departments. The youth organisations in our membership, which range from the Boys' Brigade to the YWCA and the Woodcraft Folk, have experience in adopting a co-operative approach locally. Youth work at its best works within the community together with a variety of groups and agencies and provides marginalised young people with opportunities to gain confidence and self-respect. The 500,000 volunteers who deliver the majority of services to young people in England also provide the positive role models that disaffected young people need and quite often do not find within families where no one works and where desperation has led to apathy.

It will be important to listen to those who are socially excluded and to organisations that have experience of working with them. A first step will be to abandon the term "underclass", which suggests that "the growing number of fellow citizens that lack the means, materially or otherwise, to participate in the economic, social, cultural and political life in Britain today" are not really part of our society. The Government can only succeed in its ambitious aims if it sends out the clear message that the fight against social exclusion is the responsibility of everyone.

Those of us working in the voluntary youth sector look forward to working with the Social Exclusion Unit.


Chief Executive

National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

London WC1