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Autumn Statement: Support for apprenticeships, removal of uni cap

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Chancellor George Osborne has announced he will provide an extra £40 million to increase the number of people starting higher apprenticeships.

In today's Autumn Statement address, Osborne announced that over the next two years there would be funding to support an additional 20,000 higher apprenticeships.

Osborne said apprenticeships play a "vital role" in equipping young people with the skills they need.

"To succeed in the labour market and build a rewarding career, this Government has prioritised apprenticeships and delivered 1.5 million apprenticeship starts since 2010," Osborne said.

"To build on this success, the Government will reform apprenticeship funding to ensure that employers are at the heart of the system and it delivers skills that meet the demands of UK businesses."

On university placements:

Osborne said the Government would remove a cap on university places for non-high performing students. At present, universities can administer as many high performing students as they like but are fined if they exceed an artificial cap on other students admissions. Next year, the Government will allow 30,000 more student places and the following year the cap will be removed. Osborne said this could lead to an estimated 60,000 more students to go to university each year.

He said: "Demand for higher education from young people has remained very strong through the reforms, and application rates are now at or near record levels for every country in the UK. In particular, application rates from disadvantaged groups in England are at record levels." Osborne said extra funding will be provided to science, technology and engineering course, financed by selling debt from the old student loan book.

Youth unemployment:

The Chancellor said from April 2015 the Government would abolish employer National Insurance contributions for those under the age of 21 to make it cheaper to hire young talent.

Up-skilling on the dole:

Osborne said he will not "abandon" young people who leave school with no qualifications. He said those who leave school without a GCSE in maths and english will "fail to stay off benefits".

Osborne said benefits claimants aged 18-21 without basic GCSE maths and english must enrol in a traineeship or retake the subjects in order to avoid losing benefits.

"A culture of worklessness becomes entrenched when young people go on the dole and give nothing in return, but that option is coming to an end," he said.

Start-up loans:

Osborne also announced an additional £160 million to Start Up Loans over six years. The scheme was originally launched in 2012 to support young people, who instead of pursuing study or employment wanted to start their own business.

The Chancellor confirmed more than 10,000 loans have been made to date and £162 million of funding has been committed to the scheme.

Save as you earn:

Workers who save money in schemes run by their employer - called Save as You Earn (SAYE) or Sharesave - received a boost from the Chancellor today when he doubled the amount they can pay in.

The maximum monthly amount that an employee can contribute to SAYE schemes will increase from £250 to £500. These changes will take effect in April next year.

Liz Hunter, director at RM2, share plan apecialists, said: "The Government has also given its backing to businesses looking to give their employees shares, and to staff looking to take a greater ownership stake.

"Today's statement increases the value of 'free' shares staff can acquire under the popular all employee Share Incentive Plan (SIP) to £3,600 per year and staff will be able to buy more 'partnership' shares than at present."