Peter Hoskin

Clegg sweetens the pill with a fairness premium

Clegg sweetens the pill with a fairness premium
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Only five days to go until the spending review – and after weeks of emphasis on the cuts we're about to see, the government has today unveiled a new spending commitment. It comes courtesy of Nick Clegg: a new "fairness premium" targeted at the least well-off young people. Lib Dem Voice has full details here, but the basic point is that £7 billion will be spent, across 4 years, on programmes for disadvantaged 2 to 20 year-olds. Much of this will go towards the "pupil premium" that we've heard so much about, and which should advance school choice in the most deprived areas.

Putting aside his genuine commitment to it, Clegg is facing two ways with this announcement: the public and his own party. The message for the former is that the cuts won't leave the poorest behind. For the latter, it's more a massage in the wake of the struggle over tuition fees. This is, after all, a distinctively Liberal Democrat triumph – and a welcome one at that.

It's testament to the difficulty of the spending review that policies like this will not be enough to win the argument over fairness. No longer does "investment" in the poor count as "fair" by default  – and rightly so. Rather, questions abound. Who loses out? What about the middle classes? What is the government's definition of "fair"? And so on. Nick Clegg dealt with these quite well during his interview on Today earlier – and he partially did so by shifting the coalition's emphasis on tax. Until now, the raised personal allowance has been sold as a measure for the least well-off, even though it benefits better-off taxpayers as well. Here, Clegg stressed instead that it is effectively a tax cut for "everybody". Looks like he wants to sweeten the pill for the the middle classes too.