If elected in May, the Conservatives want all 18- to 21-year-olds out of work for more than six months to either undertake an apprenticeship or carry out community work, such as litter collection and graffiti removal, in order to receive financial support.
Under the scheme, which Prime Minister David Cameron claimed will "abolish long-term youth unemployment", jobseeker's allowance will be replaced with a youth allowance.
But Ben Wardlaw, chairman of the Centrepoint Parliament, criticised the scheme. He said: “Punitive and condescending schemes like this will not get more vulnerable young people into work. Volunteering alone is not a solution.
“The focus must be on creating genuine opportunities for learning and employment that promotes rather than diminishes the aspirations of young people.”
Although the number of young people not in education, employment or training (Neet) has fallen over the past year as a result of a growth in jobs, it still stands at 7.6 per cent of all those aged 18 to 21, with the number of long-term Neets remaining stubbornly high.
Education charity Impetus, The Private Equity Foundation, described the scheme as “a short-term solution for a long-term problem”.
Jenny North, director of policy and strategy at Impetus-PEF, said: “With the number of Neets consistently remaining high throughout the last 15 years, this seems like an attempt at a cure, rather than prevention.”
Among Impetus-PEF’s recommendations to reduce Neets include improving school-to-work transitions, focusing on higher-quality further education and tailoring job search services for young people.
While campaigners recognised the benefits of work experience, some said the scheme was merely an exercise “to fulfil tick-box criteria”.
YMCA England, which supports over 228,000 young people every year, said most young people want to work.
A spokeswoman said: “If any political party is serious about giving 'everyone the chance of a better future' then we need to see a commitment to addressing the key barriers that prevent young people accessing paid work. This includes a lack of good-quality career guidance and access to appropriate training opportunities.”
The Conservative Party has said that the savings made will fund three million new apprenticeships.