Poor and powerful clash over savage cuts

BRITAIN’S poor and powerful clashed yesterday over who will lose out most under austerity measures that will slash benefits, jobs and government services to reduce the country’s crippling debts.

Treasury chief George Osborne has announced £81 billion (€91bn) in spending cuts through 2015 that will cost as many as half a million public sector jobs and trim welfare payments to families and the disabled.

Government departments will, on average, have their budgets cut by about 19%, forcing them to lay off staff and limit the scope of their work.

Britons will lose billions in benefit payments, retire later, and pay more for day-to-day items.

Osborne had said that “those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden,” saying Britain’s highest earners would be worst affected by the cuts.

But economists and the public disagree, believing the measures will cause most hardship for lower-paid government workers and those reliant on welfare checks.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, an economic think tank, said that aside from the richest 2% of people, most of the pain would be inflicted on working families, the sick and the poor.

“You’re really picking on the weakest people in society and it’s completely unfair how you’re applying these budget cuts,” Margaret Lynch, 52, told Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, at a public meeting in Nottingham.

Some legislators worry that women will lose out more than men, as about 65% of the public sector work force is female.

Pension plans for women are changing more quickly than those of men, standardising the retirement age at 66 for both genders by 2020.

“Women are more likely to work in the public sector, and more likely to use public sector services,” said Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow.

The institute said Osborne’s spending cuts are the deepest since World War II, and public services face the harshest budget limits since the mid-1970s.

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