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British Government Proposes Largest Spending Cuts since World War II

The British government is proposing the largest cuts to public spending since World War Two, calling for reductions in benefits and eliminating 25 percent of public sector jobs in the next four years. Treasury chief George Osborne told parliament Wednesday it is time to "confront the bills" of the last decade and place Britain on sustainable footing. But some accuse British lawmakers of sacrificing the jobs of others for their own political gains.

The reaction of one British cabinet member to that question seemed to sum up the hard reality faced by the British government, as it seeks to reverse a record budget deficit.

Before members of parliament Wednesday, Treasury chief George Osborne announced a five-year austerity program, saying Britain must reform a welfare system and halt other programs it can no longer afford. "Today is the day when Britain steps back from the brink, when we confront the bills from a decade of debt - a day of rebuilding when we set out a four-year plan to put our public services and welfare state on a sustainable footing for the long term," he said.

Osborne called the plan a "hard road" leading to a better future. His proposal includes $130 billion in spending cuts, eliminating nearly 500,000 public sector jobs by 2015. He said the cuts, along with tax increases, are necessary to wipe out a budget deficit that reached $246 billion last year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government came to power in May, and immediately was faced with one of the highest budget deficits in Europe, about 11 percent of the nation's annual output. Britain spent billions bailing out indebted banks and is also confronting rising unemployment.

Wednesday, Cameron defended the cuts. "We are not doing this because we want to. There is no ideological zeal in doing this. We are doing this because we have to," he said.

While some Britons say the cuts were inevitable, others, including union leaders, call them excessive. "We are not all in this together. They (the government) are left to make all their wealth. They are left to enjoy the fruits of society and the poor of this country and the hard-working public services workers bear the brunt," said Dave Prentis, head of Unison Union.


"We are going to see a real reaction from the British people. Real anger, that these are the wrong choices that have been made, and a real demand for a change of course," said Brendon Barber, head of Trades Union Congress (TUC)

"My immediate reaction is that I'm concerned about the extent of the cuts. I'm concerned that vulnerable people won't be properly protected, but I can accept that cuts are needed," one person said.

"I think you need to make the cuts and get on with it. I think people were waiting for it. I don't think the cuts were as great as some people feared as well," said another.

The plan calls for defense spending cuts of 8 percent - - including scrapping the Royal Navy's flagship aircraft carrier and its fleet of Harrier fighter jets.

Even Queen Elizabeth will be affected. Her royal budget is being trimmed by 14 percent over four years.