Labour MP David Miliband has urged action to tackle the "forgotten crisis" of youth unemployment in Croydon.
The former foreign secretary said the number of out-of-work 16 to 24-year-olds constituted an "emergency" that required urgent measures.
On a visit to Selhurst's BRIT School on Thursday, Mr Miliband said: "Youth unemployment is the forgotten crisis.
"I'm banging my head against the wall trying to get everyone to take notice of this issue, which is one of the most important facing us today."
The South Shields MP also called on Croydon Council to lead from the front by signing up to an increased living wage.
"The public sector needs to set the example on this," he said.
Mr Miliband was in Croydon campaigning alongside Labour's by-election hopeful Steve Reed, who suggested that opening doors for youngsters was also central to tackling crime.
Responding to the concerns of one pupil about muggings, Mr Reed: "The key thing is to provide an alternative to crime.
"If you provide young people with opportunties to aspire to, they will not turn to crime. We need to do that.
"Young people want to better themselves and have the knowledge to do that, but they often do not have the power."
Mr Milband and Mr Reed met around 20 post-16 pupils on their visit the specialist performing arts school.
In a half-hour question and answer session, students discussed negative representations of young people the media as well as grilling Mr Miliband about his role in the Iraq war.