Britain was put on notice for up to half a million public sector redundancies as the government on Wednesday announced swinging spending cuts to deal with the effects of the country’s worst post-War recession.
Prime Minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg swung into action to calm public nerves as Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) David Osborne announced the cuts.
Around 490,000 public sector jobs are at risk, Osborne told Parliament. It was a “headcount” of redundancies to be enforced over four years, “not overnight, much of it through natural turnover” of posts that will be not be filled, he said.
The redundancies, he said, were “unavoidable when the country has run out of money” and promised £6 billion savings through job cuts.
“It is a hard road but it leads to a better future.”
Osborne promised to crack down on British banks, and “extract the maximum sustainable tax revenues from financial services.”
The government increased the state pension age to 66 by 2020 — four years earlier than planned and fetching savings of £5 billion a year — aware that similar moves in France have led to waves of strikes and blockades of fuel pumps.
The government said it needs to cut £83 billion in public spending over the coming four years in order to wipe out a £155-billion deficit — the largest in Europe after Greece and Ireland — and blamed uncontrolled spending by the previous government for the current crisis.
The prospects of such large-scale job losses are alarming as they come at a time of workers’ protests across Europe. Although Britain is yet to see the kinds of huge protests that have hit France, Greece, Spain and Belgium, the threat of social unrest looms large.