Public attitudes to tax and spending

Citizen views from across the UK

Understanding public attitudes has always been important to government and the public sector. It helps political leaders respond to the electorate’s priorities and helps public service managers deliver what matters most to their users. Both matter more than ever as decision makers and policy makers explore ways to maximise the value of public spending, encourage greater personal responsibility and shift public expectations on the public services.

For the third year, Deloitte and Reform have commissioned Ipsos MORI to survey almost 1,500 UK adults on their attitudes to public spending, government priorities and public service reform.

The impact of austerity

The Prime Minister’s announcement that austerity is over will be welcomed by many. This year’s citizen survey found that since austerity began in 2010, public support for cuts has fallen. It also finds some notable differences between citizen attitudes in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Key findings from our citizen survey

The number of people affected by austerity remains stable
Our survey found that the number of people feeling the impact of austerity has not risen in the past year, although it remains elevated from earlier this decade. A third of the public say they have been affected a great deal or a fair amount by austerity compared to a quarter in 2015.

The UK’s devolved administrations have, to differing degrees, cushioned their citizens from the impact of austerity. This is likely to have influenced peoples’ experiences of spending cuts across the UK’s four nations - 32 per cent of people in England say they have been affected, compared to 30 per cent in Wales, 27 per cent in Scotland and 22 per cent in Northern Ireland.

Support for austerity has dwindled
The survey also found that the majority of the UK public oppose spending cuts to improve the public finances. In 2010, just before the UK coalition government set out its austerity plans, 54 per cent of the public agreed that there was a need to cut public spending. That support has since dwindled to just 19 per cent this year.

Austerity has seen a shift in attitudes to tax and spending
Public attitudes on the balance of tax and spending have shifted significantly over the same timescale. Last year’s survey found a marked increase in the number of people that believe government services should be extended – even if that means tax rises – and this year’s survey shows that remains the majority view. The proportion of people who back higher taxes to pay for more extensive public services now stands at 62 per cent compared to just nine per cent who would prefer to see taxes and services cut.

However, this poll does not show how much tax the public would be willing to pay, and evidence suggests that they would expect to see modest rises. A poll by Reform in early 2018 suggested that most voters would be willing to pay around £5 per month to fund greater spending on the NHS.

These attitudes differ across the UK. People in Scotland are significantly more likely to believe that government services should be extended and funded through higher taxes.

Policing has gone up as a public priority
We also asked the public to select two or three areas of public spending that they think should be protected from cuts. As in previous years, the NHS and healthcare remains the public’s top choice, followed by education and then the police. However, this year, there has been an increase in the number of people also saying that the police should be exempt from cuts – from 32 per cent last year to 38 per cent this year.

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