Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government today detailed deep public spending cuts that will curtail significantly Britain's welfare state services.
The biggest impact of the cuts will be on education health, housing, public transporation, social work and aid to local governments, shifting some of the burden of paying for these services from the national government to individual Britons.
Parents and students will have to start paying for school meals, milk and transporation in many places. National Health Service patients will be charged higher dental fees and about $1.50 instead of about 50 cents to fill a prescription. Public housing tenants will be charged higher rents and commuters will have to pay higher train fares.
The spending cuts are part of Thatcher's strategy to reduce the government's role in the economy, stop Britain's soaring inflation, reduce the national budget deficit and make possible further costs in income taxes to stimulate Britons to work harder to rescue the country's ailing economy.
Thatcher began her promised program to cut public spending, early in her administration, but the impact of the nearly $8 billion in cuts revealed today on Britain's welfare state touched off immediate angry protests from the oppostion Labor Party, trade unions, local government officials, educators, social service officials and others.
These protests are expected to grow as the cuts take effect during the coming year and pose a challenge to Thatcher's resolve to stick with her radical economic strategy. The budget cuts come against a background of a still rising inflation rate of 17 percent, business community predictions of a sharply worsening recession here next year, and a recent drop in the value of the British pound.
Denis Healey, former chancellor of the Exchequer in the previous Labor government, which had planned to increase government spending next year charged in Parliament today that Thatcher's cuts "will make the recession deeper."
"This is the price the people of this country are having to pay," Healey declared, "for the fact that the [Conservative] government's economic policy has given Britain the highest inflation and the lowest growth in the whole of the Western world."
Typical of the reaction from Britain's powerful labor unions was the assessment by Public Employes Union leader Alan Fisher that "people on hospital waiting lists, parents of children suffering from massive cuts in education spending, and the sick faced with [higher] prescription charges know that the government is stacking the cards against them.
"Most frightening," he added, "is the government's blindness to the economic consequences of this wrecking of the welfare state at a time when our economy needs more, not less, consumer spending power."
Thatcher's treasury minister, John Biffen, dismissed such reactions as rhetoric in "an extraordinarily well orchestrated campaign" to portray the spending cuts as "a savage and primeval attack on the welfare state.
"It is our belief," Biffen said, "that the only sure way in which this country can recover from the recession is through a successful revival in profitable industry. We do not believe that one spend one's way out of a recession."
Thatcher's government also is cutting foreign aid spending and some of its subsidy of the British Broadcasting Corp's foreign-language broadcasts abroad.
The BBC will be forced to eliminate its broadcasts in French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Maltese, Burmese and Spanish, except for broadcasts to Latin America. This will leave the BBC with broadcasts in 31 foreign languages, compared to the United States' 60 and the Soviet Union's 85.
The basic English-language World Services will not be affected.
BBC officials issued a statement condemning the cuts and said they would fight the demise of French-language broadcasts, especially in Africa, "where even the Chinese broadcast in French," according to a BBC spokesman.
While making all these cuts, Thatcher increased spending for crime control in Britain and for the defense. Military spending is being increased by the full 3 percent recommended by NATO and promised by Thatcher earlier this year.
Healey asked why Britain, with its severe economic problems, was increasing its defense spending by 3 percent when a much richer NATO nation, such as West Germany, was expanding its military budget by only half as much.