A scheme to head off a sharp rise in youth unemployment by guaranteeing work or training for everyone between 18 and 24 is to be extended.
The Young Person's Guarantee, which ensures employment for those in the age group who have been out of work for six months, will be continued until March 2012 if Labour is re-elected. It was launched by the Prime Minister in January and had been due to come to an end next March.
Government sources said that 117,000 positions had already been found for the project, while the Chancellor said that 4 million people had been helped to find a job over the last year. "That has not happened by chance – it has happened because of choices we have made," Mr Darling said. "We responded with an extra £5bn to help people find work quicker. Our approach has made a difference."
However, Ben Robinson, chairman of the campaigning group Youth Fight for Jobs, said the Budget as a whole had offered "very little" for young people. "Merely extending the Young Person's Guarantee is a slap in the face for our generation," he said.
Mr Darling insisted that an extra £450m would be made available to extend the jobs guarantee programme and the Future Jobs Fund, a council-run job creation project, and that money had become available because unemployment had been lower than expected. Yvette Cooper, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said that it was a sign Labour would not write off a generation of young people. "In the Eighties, youth unemployment kept rising for four years after the recession ended," she said. "We cannot let that happen again. This time we have seen youth unemployment fall for the last four months as a result of the investment we have put in."