The New Year could see Britain lose the global economic race to India and other emerging economies if it did not take tough decisions, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron warned on Tuesday as he sought to rally public support for his government’s unpopular austerity programme, which has seen millions lose their jobs and his party’s ratings fall to a new low.

His warning came as an opinion poll showed that a majority of Britons feared their circumstances would get worse over the next 12 months. They rejected government claims that its policies were working and the country was on the “right track”.

Using his New Year’s message to justify his controversial deficit-cutting plans that would cause more people to lose their benefits, Mr. Cameron said that Britain could not expect to win “the race with countries like China, India and Indonesia” if it did not take urgent steps to reduce its debt.

“Britain is in a global race to succeed today. It is race with countries like China, India and Indonesia; a race for the jobs and opportunities of the future. So when people say we can slow down on cutting our debts, we are saying no. We can’t win in this world with a great millstone of debt round our necks,” he said.

Justifying the crackdown on welfare benefits, he said: “When people say we’ve got to stop our welfare reforms because somehow it is cruel to expect people to work, we are saying no. Getting people into good jobs is absolutely vital, not just for them, but for all of us.”

He said there were “no quick fixes” and urged the people to greet the New Year with “realism and optimism”.