Clegg comes unstuck on jobs scheme

The Deputy PM struggled to deny that the jobs scheme will be paid for by the working poor.

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.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.