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Britain to unveil harsh spending cuts

20 października, 2010

Britain\'s government unveils the harshest cuts for decades on Wednesday, slashing billions of pounds in public spending and axing half a million jobs in a bid to tackle a record deficit.

The comprehensive spending review is the biggest challenge for Prime Minister David Cameron\'s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition since it took power in May and is a major gamble for the future of the world\'s sixth biggest economy.

The government aims to cut spending by 83 billion pounds (130 billion dollars, 95 billion euros) by 2014-15, with the review expected to detail big welfare cuts plus reductions of 25 percent in many other departments.

George Osborne, the finance minister, will officially announce his plans to parliament at 1130 GMT and is expected to say that the austerity measures will map out "a hard road to a better Britain," according to reports.

The coalition says that to avoid a Greek-style financial crisis it needs to eliminate Britain\'s record 154.7-billion-pound deficit -- a legacy of the previous Labour government and the recession -- over the next five years.

The Labour opposition, unions and some economists say the cuts are too steep and risk plunging the fragile economy back into recession, which it emerged from at the end of last year.

Osborne is set to brace the public sector for nearly 500,000 jobs to be culled over the next four years -- a fact accidentally revealed by a Cabinet minister who was photographed reading confidential briefing papers.

Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, was snapped Tuesday with the documents on his lap as he was driven away from his office.

The government has promised that healthcare and international development aid will be protected from the cuts.

But Britain\'s welfare and justice systems are expected to be hard hit, with Osborne already having angered some supporters by dropping the cherished principle of child benefits for all families, which dates back to 1946.

The BBC is also braced for a 16 percent cut to its budget in real terms over the next six years, while it will also take responsibility for funding the World Service, its website reported.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who backs a mix of cuts and tax rises, said Wednesday that the government was taking an "irresponsible gamble" with jobs and the economy.

"People will be very fearful about what is being announced today -- fearful for their jobs and fearful for many of the services that they rely on up and down the country," he said.

The coalition started the cuts process Tuesday, announcing that it would shrink the country\'s armed forces, scrap key assets like its flagship aircraft carrier and reduce the defence budget by eight percent.

Cameron said 17,000 service personnel would go from the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy by 2015 -- but vowed there would be "no cut whatsoever" to the level of support for forces in Afghanistan.

The International Monetary Fund has endorsed Osborne\'s plans, and European governments facing major protests at their own austerity plans are watching closely to see if Britain\'s work.

British trade unions have reacted with anger and thousands of union members and protesters rallied in London Tuesday, waving placards that said "Don\'t Break Britain" and "No more cuts".