Peter Bills: Cold turkey time for the people of Britain

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Wolves haven't roamed the forests of Britain for centuries.

But the howling and cries of anguish that will fill the sound waves of British life next week upon the Coalition Government's announcement of its spending review is likely to be reminiscent of those days.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is targeting £83 billion ($174.78 billion) of cuts from the Government's annual spending bill, a move in line with his determination to make a major assault upon the nation's alarming £152 billion debt, inherited from the outgoing, discredited Labour Government back in May.

The problem is, this is cold turkey time for the people of Britain. And the effect will be every bit as painful and protracted as the process of trying to wean junkies off their fix.

Drugs and alcohol are profuse in modern-day British life yet the country's preferred No 1 dependency is hand-outs by the state.

Since a Labour Government under Clement Attlee introduced the welfare state in 1945, Britain has been slowly sinking under the weight of a commitment that, in its original, simplest form had huge merit. Alas, its exponential growth has seen a humanitarian idea gradually become a yoke around the nation's neck.

State aid - in other words, handouts - has become more widely abused than opposition players on English football grounds. People claiming incapacity benefits have been spotted playing in organised football matches at weekends on park pitches.

Others who have claimed free car park passes due to serious immobility have been traced to running and similar exercise clubs. A bad back, caused by whatever reason, has become a passport to a lifetime of benefits by the state.

Even the dead have contributed, albeit inadvertently, to this miasma of fraud. The most unscrupulous elements of society have used the names of the deceased to extract extra benefits from the state.

Britain's problem has been two-fold. The bloated public state has become so large and dishevelled that proper exploration of it has deterred most would-be Inspector Clouseaus.

Secondly, no government of the post-war years has had the appetite to confront this distorted, abused system in the face of growling menace by the union barons.

But this time, confronting a national debt of such staggering proportions, this latest batch of politicians to take office has had no choice.

It was either harsh medicine doled out by a British doctor or accepting the diagnosis of experts at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And their methods of restoring health are distinctly unpleasant.

Nevertheless, when the Chancellor makes his statement next week on the outcome of this contentious spending review, all hell will break over his head. The reason for that is simple: Britons will at last discover the seriousness of their country's current plight.

No more obfuscation by lying politicians before an election, no more prevarication or denial, a method most favoured by the last Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The extent of the crisis will be laid bare and the methods to cure the seriously sick patient are going to take a long time and be extremely painful.

As in any such scenario, some of the innocent will be caught up in the fire aimed at those who have wilfully abused the system down the years. That much is inevitable. Some who desperately need aid will find their benefits savagely cut in some cases.

And never mind about that old friend of mine "Rip-off New Zealand"; living in Britain these days is hugely expensive. You are taxed or robbed, metaphorically speaking, at all hours.

That will get worse before it gets better. The pain is going to be considerable, for almost everyone.

Yet despite this impending gloom and the certain storm of protest next week, some good news is likely to emerge.

If Prime Minister David Cameron and his colleagues can at last begin the process of weaning the ultra-dependent, work-shy Brits off their state handout mentality, he will break new ground as a UK leader.

For Britain to have any long-term future in the modern, changing world, he must succeed in his task. Taking a chainsaw to the dependency bill is essential to prune the bloated excesses of years and start to make Britain competitive once more.

Some will howl like wolves. But the realists know this is long overdue. Typically, Britain has waited until the crisis is at the door to act. Shades of 1939?

- NZ Herald

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