British PM vows 'fair' cuts in eye of welfare storm

6th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron fought Wednesday to stop a row over welfare reform clouding a major speech vowing harsh cuts to be unveiled in two weeks will be "fair".

Cameron's first speech as prime minister to his Conservative party's annual conference will acknowledge that while "reducing spending will be difficult" and jobs will be lost, the task facing Britain is not impossible.

His Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which took power in May, needs to tackle a record deficit of 154.7 billion pounds (188 billion euros, 242 billion dollars) and will outline its plans in an October 20 spending review.

"The spending cuts we do have to make, we'll make them in a way that is fair," the premier will say in closing the conference, according to comments pre-released by his office.

Cameron says reductions will average around 25 percent over four years in many government departments and his plans have prompted threats of co-ordinated strike action by Britain's trade unions.

"Reducing spending will be difficult. There are programmes that will be cut. There are jobs that will be lost. There are things government does today that it will have to stop doing.

"But let's remember, a lot of businesses have had to make the same or bigger savings in recent years."

Shortly before Cameron's speech, Defence Secretary Liam Fox highlighted that defence spending could be hit hard because of the economic situation, which ministers blame on the previous Labour government.

"While we can never predict where events will take us or the unavoidable bills we will have to pay as a consequence, we must confront the ghastly truth of Labour's legacy," he said.

Cameron's attempts to reassure Britons over the tough times ahead have been dogged by a row over his government's decision to scrap universal child benefit payments which the state has paid to families since 1946.

The premier apologised for not warning voters of the move before May's general election in an interview with ITV News late Tuesday.

"We did not know exactly the situation we were going to inherit. But, yes, I acknowledge this was not in our manifesto. Of course I'm sorry about that," he said.

The move to drop payments to over one million households where one person earns over 44,000 pounds by 2013 has been criticised by Tory politicians, families and the press.

Many have highlighted a loophole which means double-income couples earning over 80,000 pounds a year will still be able to claim the payment, worth 20.30 pounds a week for the eldest child and 13.40 pounds a week for other children.

Cameron's conference speech in Birmingham, central England, from 2:30 pm (1330 GMT) will be positive and personal but lay bare the challenges Britain faces in the months and years ahead, aides said.

He received a pre-speech boost when a Sun/YouGov poll Wednesday put the Tories four points ahead of Labour, who have benefited from a slight bounce after electing Ed Miliband as their new leader last month.

Cameron is expected to say that "it's fair that those with broader shoulders should bear a greater load" as the cuts are imposed.

He is also set to praise the small businesses which he hopes will help Britain's economy -- which emerged from recession at the end of last year -- to sustainable growth.

By contrast, he will again criticise bankers blamed for helping trigger the 2008 financial crisis for failing to lend enough money to small business.

"Taxpayers bailed you out -- now it's time for you to repay the favour and start lending to Britain's small businesses again," he will say.

Cameron warned that massive bonuses for bankers were "intolerable" unless they lent more money to businesses in a BBC interview Tuesday and pledged to "look very carefully at this bonus issue."

© 2010 AFP

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