David Cameron has defended the allocation of internship placements to the children of friends and colleagues, undermining one of Nick Clegg's flagship policies for improving social mobility.
The Prime Minister said he was "very relaxed" about awarding work experience positions to personal acquaintances and had offered one himself to a neighbour.
Earlier this month, Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg criticised the monopolisation of valuable internships by the children of the well-connected.
He urged companies to appoint interns in a more transparent and meritocratic way so that youngsters from less advantaged backgrounds had the same opportunities to get into competitive careers.
Mr Clegg faced accusations of hypocrisy, however, when he was forced to admit that he had himself benefited from the connections of his banker father in obtaining an internship.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron said his deputy was "trying to make a fair point".
But he said he too had been helped out by family connections with what he called a "definite leg-up internship" at his father's stockbrokers.
The Prime Minister said he would go on offering work experience based on "all sorts of contacts".
"I've got my neighbour coming in for an internship," he said.
"In the modern world, of course you're always going to have internships and interns - people who come and help in your office who come through all sorts of contacts, friendly, political, whatever.
"I do that and I'll go on doing that. I feel very relaxed about it."
Gus Baker of Intern Aware, which campaigns for "fair" internships, criticised the Prime Minister's remarks.
"David Cameron might think that he is just giving a leg up to his friend's children. But this has the effect of denying opportunities to talented, hardworking young people who lack connections and can't afford to work for free," he said.
"If he is serious about social mobility, Mr Cameron needs to ensure that all internships are transparently advertised and fairly paid."
Downing Street sought to play down suggestions of a rift between Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg over the issue.
"As the Prime Minister clearly states in the interview, he backs the Government's social mobility strategy," a spokesman said.
"The intern mentioned is in his constituency office, not Whitehall, and is from a local comprehensive school."