A youthful wage subsidy

Youth unemployment has been one of the main headlines for some months, with data showing a record number of young people out of work.

As part of the government’s £1bn Youth Contract that aims to help young people back into work and help those unable to find employment, Nick Clegg has announced wage subsidies to firms hiring 18-24 year olds will be paid earlier.

Some of the costs of unemployment are obvious. For the individual who is unemployed, it means a lack of income and hence inability to buy goods and services. This then has wider implications for the economy. If people are unable to purchase goods and services, this contributes to a lower level of aggregate demand, which in times of recession, is hardly ideal.

Unemployment also means an inefficient use of resources, meaning the economy is operating below full capacity. Fewer people in work also implies lower tax revenues for the government, at the same time as higher unemployment benefit payments, contributing towards a growing budget deficit. This point is of particular concern, when it is young workers claiming benefits, as it could mean a life of dependency.

There are also some longer-term consequences, in particular for those who have been out of work for some time. They lose their skills, making it harder to find a job and this can pose costs to employers and further costs to the government through re-training. As such, government initiatives to tackle youth unemployment have never been more important.

The wage subsidies that were announced back in November will now be paid when young people have been out of work for six months, instead of nine. This initiative aims to help reduce youth unemployment in areas where it is at its worst. Twenty local authorities have been identified as priorities for the government and will benefit from this scheme. As Nick Clegg said to CBI summit:

“Three months can make all the difference. When you feel like your banging your head against a brick wall, when you live in an area where opportunities are already few and far between, another 12 weeks of rejection letters, of being cut off, of sitting at home waiting, worrying, that can seriously knock the stuffing out of you, making it extremely difficult to pick yourself up …

So jobcentres will be able to make use of the subsidy before people are referred to the Work Programme, capitalising on their links with local employers, and they’ll also intensify support, so more training, more regular coaching, spending more time with young people to knock a CV into shape or prep ahead of an interview.”

There are critics of the scheme, who argue that it is too little, too late and that it will simply displace older workers, thereby creating worse unemployment for another group. Until the economy begins to grow and confidence returns to the markets, unemployment is likely to remain a frequent headline. The following articles consider the wage subsidy and the state of unemployment in the UK.

Wage subsidy could mean more jobs Independent Online, Business Report, Pierre Heistein (14/6/12)
Wage subsidies scheme moved forward The Press Association (27/6/12)
Wage subsidy plan for young workers brought forward BBC News (27/6/12)
Wage subsidies scheme moved forward Independent, Alan Jones (27/6/12)
Nick Clegg announces extra help for jobless in 20 troublespots Guardian, Juliette Jowit (27/6/12)
Young people’s prospects have ‘nose-dived’ says report BBC News, Judith Burns (25/6/12)
Economic gap between young and old significantly worse since 2008 – study Guardian, James Ball and Helene Mulholland (25/6/12)


  1. Why is unemployment such a big concern for the UK economy? What is so important about youth unemployment?
  2. Which factors have contributed towards such high youth unemployment?
  3. How will the wage subsidy encourage firms to take on more young people? Think about how a rational firm behaves when choosing between 2 workers.
  4. Why does the wage subsidy cause concern for organisations supporting the employment of older workers?
  5. To what extent do you agree with the Guardian article that says that young people have borne the brunt of the recession and subsequent government cuts?
  6. What other things have been undertaken in a bid to reduce unemployment and stimulate the economy?
  7. Think about the costs of unemployment. Categorise them into costs to (a) the individual, (b) friends and family, (c) the government and (d) the economy.