U.K. outlines massive cuts to public spending

Britain's coalition government has laid out a series of sweeping spending cuts meant to reduce the country's debt and bring Britain "back from the brink."

Public-sector jobs, social programs will be hit

Britain's coalition government has laid out a series of sweeping spending cuts meant to help reduce the country's growing debt and bring the country "back from the brink."

George Osborne, Britain's treasury head, leaves Downing Street in London on Wednesday. Osborne announced spending cuts that mean the loss of as many as 500,000 public-sector jobs and sweeping cuts to welfare payments. ((Toby Melville/Reuters))

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said Wednesday that the government will make cuts totalling more than £81 billion ($132 billion Cdn) through 2015, and will bring "the years of ever-rising borrowing to an end."

The cutbacks will affect a range of departments and as many as 500,000 public-sector jobs could be lost as the cuts are implemented.

"Today is the day when Britain steps back from the brink," Osborne said.

"We are going to bring the years of ever-rising borrowing to an end," he said.

He said the government would work to ensure that "we do not saddle our children with the interest on the interest on the interest of the debts that we were not prepared ourselves to pay."

Few departments spared

During his address to MPs, it was clear that few government departments have been spared.

The National Health Service, pre-university education and international development budgets will be protected from the cuts — but the policing budget will fall by four per cent each year. The Justice Ministry must cut its budget by six per cent per year, but funding for fighting terrorism would be maintained.

The Foreign Office will see a 24 per cent budget cut and the British Broadcasting Corp. will be required to take on the full cost of running its world service.

Welfare funding will also be reduced and the minimum age for people seeking state pensions will be raised earlier than previously expected.

Osborne said that even the Queen would be affected, as the royal household budget will be cut by 14 per cent over four years.

After spending billions bailing out indebted banks, and suffering a squeeze on tax revenue and a hike in welfare bills, he said it would take time to turn things around.

"In every area where we make savings, we must leave no stone left unturned in our search for waste, and we must deliver changes necessary to make our public services fit for the modern age," he said.

"We are all in this together and all must make a contribution," he told legislators in a long anticipated statement to outline the coalition government's long-term economic plans.

Osborne also said that a temporary levy on bank balance sheets being introduced in January will be made permanent, potentially raising billions of dollars.

"We will extract the maximum sustainable taxes from the banking system," he said.

Osborne said fairness means "creating a welfare system that helps the vulnerable, supports people into work and is affordable for the working families that pay for it with their taxes."

"Fairness also means that across the entire deficit reduction plan, those with the most should pay the most, and that includes our banks," he said.

Union vows to fight

However, some groups have vowed to fight the cuts — Britain's largest reductions in public spending since the Second World War.

"This is the start of the fight," said Carol Davies, a member of the major public sector union UNISON.

"The public will be behind us," she said ahead of the spending review announcements. 

Some critics have said the timing of the cuts could slow the country's economic recovery or send the U.K. into a double-dip recession.

With files from The Associated Press