As expected, Nick Clegg has this morning announced the government's belated response to the youth unemployment crisis. The £1bn scheme (previewed by Gavin Kelly on his New Statesman blog yesteday) will see wage subsidies worth £2,275 offered to employers to take on 160,000 18- to 24-year-olds over the next three years.
If it sounds a lot like the Future Jobs Fund (FJF) set up by Labour and scrapped by the coalition, that's because it is. There are some differences. The scheme will not operate in the public sector and it provides a smaller job subsidy - £2,25 per job rather than the £6,000 subsidy offered by the FJF. But it still represents a significant U-turn by the coalition. As Gavin wrote on his blog yesterday, the government, confronted by the scandal of one million young people out of work, has been forced to swallow its "ideological opposition to wage subsidies".
The question, for a government that refuses to spend a penny of new money, is how will it be paid for? The Treasury has briefed that the money will be found by not uprating tax credits in line with inflation, a move that would penalise low and middle income earners. Asked to confirm that this was the case on the Today programme this morning, Clegg floundered. He insisted that "this £1bn isn't paid for by one particular tax change or one particular welfare change" but refused to deny that tax credits would bear the brunt. The Deputy PM went on to restate his belief that the majority of savings should come from those with "the broadest shoulders", pointing to the bank levy, the rise in capital gains tax and the crackdown on tax loopholes. But this only begs the question: why isn't the new scheme funded through such a measure? Rather than cutting tax credits, the government could have levied a wealth tax on the asset-rich.
Sounding ever more uncomfortable, Clegg fell back on the line that the full details would be in George Osborne's autumn statement next Tuesday. But, as we have learned, when forced to choose between squeezing the rich and squeezing the poor, the Chancellor squeezes the poor. Clegg's jobs scheme will be balanced on the backs of the least well-off.