Clegg hints rich will take the pain

Clegg leaves Downing Street earlier this month. His comments suggest debates about spreading the pain have been taking place around the Cabinet table.
Cegg leaves Downing Street earlier this month. His comments suggest debates about spreading the pain have been taking place around the Cabinet table.l

By Ian Dunt

The rich could be forced to contribute more as Britain continues to cut down the deficit, Nick Clegg has suggested.

The deputy prime minister's off-the-cuff comment during a round of media interviews to promote his youth jobs scheme is a sign that ministers are seeking ways to spread some of the pain of austerity.

Mr Clegg said he wanted those "with the broadest shoulders" to pay more and that George Osborne's autumn statement next week would feature "more of that".

The comments are likely to raise the suspicions of Tory backbenchers, who are keen for the rich to be taxed less in order to create a more entrepreneurial culture in Britain.

But with youth unemployment past the one million mark and consumer demand stubbornly low, ministers are frantically trying to find funds for investment programmes and back-to-work schemes.

This morning saw the deputy prime minister launch a scheme creating over 400,000 work and training placements, at a price of £1 billion.

The 'youth contract' will subsidise employers at half the minimum wage to take on young people who have been out of work. If the young person sticks in the job for six months they will retain their benefits, but quitting the role would mean they no longer have access to the funds.

"We won't allow the children brought up in the boom to bear the brunt of the bust," Mr Clegg said.

"The next generation must not pay the price for my generation's mistakes. So the coalition government won’t sit on our hands and let a generation fall behind."

While David Cameron tried to put a brave face on unemployment figures during last week's PMQs, Downing Street is wary that the one million mark could come to define the government's austerity programme in the eyes of voters.

That is a possibility Ed Miliband has eagerly seized, with a tough speech yesterday demanding the government admit its economic policy has failed.

"The autumn statement will mark a crucial moment in the economic course of our country," he told thinktank IPPR.

"Even the biggest supporter of the government will be worrying about how the evidence is piling up that David Cameron and George Osborne are getting it wrong and beginning to wonder when either of them are going to take responsibility for what is going on."

The government "no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt", he added.

While it is not entirely clear where the money for the youth programme is coming from, Mr Clegg pledged this morning it was not being taken from one specific item of spending elsewhere.

"What I can rule out is that any one item of spending in the autumn statement is paid for, in the jargon, hypothecated, by one saving elsewhere," he told Radio 5 Live.


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