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Downing Street on defensive over cuts unease


Most British voters think the austerity spending cuts are unfairly hitting the poor, according to a poll out Sunday, as the government admitted it was struggling to get its message across.

The ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror newspapers found that 63 per cent thought the impact would be felt more by poorer households than the better off.

It came after Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke -- a finance minister in the 1990s credited with turning the last recession into a boom -- warned that the middle classes did not yet understand the scale of Britain's economic woes.

Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government has embarked on a round of spending cuts and tax rises in a bid to tackle Britain's hefty debts.

The poll blow comes as he attempts to relaunch his "Big Society" drive -- whereby power is handed to local communities and voluntary organisations -- which he admitted had been met with attacks and negative headlines.

"Building a stronger, bigger society is something we should try and do whether spending is going up or down," he wrote in The Observer newspaper.

"But there is a broader point to be made.

"As the state spends less and does less -- which would be happening whichever party was in government -- there would be a positive benefit if some parts of society were to step forward and do more."

ComRes found that 57 percent thought the scale of the planned cuts was "too severe and too fast", while 69 percent expected to be personally worse off as a result.

Some 41 percent thought that the need for cuts at the scale proposed had been exaggerated by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition parties to suit their own ends, while 38 per cent disagreed.
Clarke told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that Britain's middle classes did not understand the scale of spending cuts they face, which would only emerge in the coming year.

"If someone says it's not as bad as all that, I say (they) just don't realise the calamitous position we're in."

The cuts have hit government departments from Britain's military to its educational system, with plans to increase university tuition fees sparking violent protests in London last year.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said it was time for some "home truths", saying Britain would spend nearly 43 billion pounds next year on interest payments alone.

"We need to live within our means and compete in the global economy. It is wrong to borrow now and expect our children to pay," he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph.

"Either we deal with the financial crisis to give Britain a fighting chance, or we allow a slow, managed decline."

ComRes interviewed 2,009 adults online on in Great Britain online on Tuesday and Wednesday.