UK Politics

Prime Minister David Cameron urges perspective on cuts

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Media captionDavid Cameron said welfare reform would tackle 'fraud, error and waste'

Prime Minister David Cameron has urged people to put public spending cuts "into perspective" as he confirmed plans for big welfare changes.

He said Britain has a "great future" and that the cuts - of up to 40% - may not be as painful as people think.

On the first day of the Tory conference he told the BBC "refreshingly radical" welfare reforms would mean people would always be better off in work.

He also trailed plans to spend £60m on better cancer screening tests.

The new bowel cancer screening programme could save an estimated 3,000 lives a year, the Department of Health said.

This, and other cancer measures, were a sign that the "mainstream" centre-ground government he was leading would not just maintain the NHS as it was, but improve it, he said.

Mr Cameron, appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, said the welfare reforms would cost more upfront, but the changes would be phased in, with other welfare savings made to cover the cost.

He declined to confirm or deny reports that these cuts would include ending some universal benefits such as Child Benefit paid for those over the age of 16.

"On the one hand we've got to ask are there some elements of universal benefits that are no longer affordable?

"But on the other hand, let's look at the issues of dependency, where we've trapped people in poverty through the extent of welfare that they have," he added.

At the moment, parents are paid £20.30 a week for the eldest child and £13.40 for subsequent children, with payments continuing until the age of 19 for those in full-time education.

In the longer term - according to reports the changes could be phased in over 10 years - the move to a single welfare payments system would save "huge amounts of money" because there would be less error, fraud and waste, Mr Cameron said.

"And because it's always worth people going into work, you will actually reduce benefits," he added.

Welfare reform has been seen as key to plans to cut the UK's deficit, but has been the source of reported tension between the Treasury and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Mr Cameron said the proposed changes, to bring welfare benefits for the unemployed and low-paid together under a new "universal credit" system, were the most far-reaching for more than 60 years.

Arriving at the conference centre in Birmingham shortly after the interview the prime minister said Britain had a "great future" once the financial situation inherited from Labour was sorted out.

His attempt to focus on the positive ahead of the party's first conference in power since 1996, was a theme of his Sunday newspaper interviews. The PM told the News of the World: "Let's put these cuts into perspective. Many businesses have had to make far greater reductions than us in one year."

He also told the Sunday Telegraph that the UK economy was now out of the "danger zone" and the country was once again "open for business".

'Double dip'

On defence cuts, Mr Cameron said: "It's inevitably a difficult process but I'm very confident that we will complete it and we will have a more strategic, thought through, more clear defence posture that we can win widespread support for.

"At the same time we will give everything to our troops in Afghanistan that they need. Of course the Treasury and the MoD have to have discussions and they are lively discussions.

"Yes, there are difficult decisions, but we will have some amazingly capable defence forces with some of the latest equipment in the world, including more Chinook helicopters."

His comments come after the leak of a letter from Defence Secretary Liam Fox warning of "grave consequences" of making "draconian" cuts at the Ministry of Defence at a time of war.

Mr Cameron said that there were on-going discussions in all areas of spending ahead of the 20 October spending review - he told the BBC that the comprehensive nature of the spending review meant "nothing is agreed until everything's agreed".

He was also asked about former chancellor and current Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's warning in an interview with the Observer that a "double dip" recession was still a real possibility.

Mr Cameron told Andrew Marr that Mr Clarke was talking about the impact on the British economy from a fresh recession elsewhere.

He said there would be "choppy waters" ahead, but stressed that most economic forecasts were for continued growth of the economy.

The conference was opened by Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi, who sought to address fears among some grassroots activists that the party's identity was being diluted by coalition with the Lib Dems by promising them more of a say in long-term policy development.

She told activists the dormant Conservative Policy Forum would be reactivated.

"It means that all our party members can have real say on how our policies develop. And we will always make sure that voice is heard, respected and understood," she said in a speech.

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