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Budget cuts mark state's retreat from public life, media say

The British press is reacting to Wednesday's unveiling of the most severe cuts to public spending since World War II, including plans to scale back benefits, slash military spending and cut public sector jobs in order to tackle a record debt.


AFP - Britain's harsh austerity cuts are a watershed that will change the country forever and mark the start of a dramatic retreat by the state from its citizens' lives, newspapers said Thursday.

Commentators were also in no doubt the 83-billion-pound (130-billion-dollar, 95-billion-euro) cuts package, unveiled Wednesday, was a huge bet with the Financial Times calling it "Britain's biggest economic gamble in a generation."

George Osborne, finance minister in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, announced the deep spending cuts which slashed budgets by around a fifth and will likely lead to the loss of half a million public sector jobs.

British Finance Minister George Osborne says "tackling this budget deficit is unavoidable".

They are designed to tackle a record 154.7-billion-pound deficit.   

Some observers bemoaned the risk to the economy that Osborne was taking and the deep cuts faced by the welfare system, while others praised the Conservative minister for tackling a sprawling and inefficient public sector.

There was little disagreement on one key point, however -- Britain would undergo a dramatic transformation in the coming years.

The left-leaning Guardian daily saw a dark future ahead as the benefits system shrinks and the axe falls "on the sick, the poor and on working parents."

Cuts to the welfare system were "a truly brutal concentration -- amounting to a historic resetting of the welfare state -- on those who have little."

"A chancellor cannot take (tens of billions of pounds) out of the economy, as Mr Osborne did, without the country hurting from it. This will be a different country from now on," added the paper.

But the rightwing Daily Telegraph heaped praise on the comprehensive spending review, as the cuts programme is known, saying it signalled that an intrusive state was at last starting to pull in its tentacles.

The austerity measures were "an intelligent, businesslike and brave package," said the paper, adding that Osborne had "made the right call."

It praised the minister for his efforts to rein in a "totally out of control" welfare budget and improve efficiency across the state sector.

The cuts would shift "the balance away from the overblown and inefficient public sector created by Labour," the party in office for 13 years until they lost power in the May general election, said the Telegraph.

The Conservative-supporting Sun tabloid declared "Osborne whacks Britain" -- but still backed the austerity measures, saying the country had the chance "to make an historic shift away from the benefits culture to work and self-reliance."

The left-leaning Independent saw the measures as part of a trend in the developed world, saying government everywhere would have to "try to do more, but do it with less.

"But it can't. That is why these spending cuts will come to be seen as a first stage of a wider retreat."

And it added that a decade down the line Britons would live in a world of "diminished ambitions, for politicians as for the rest of us.

"And it starts today."

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