David Cameron and George Osborne are trusted to see Britain through its economic problems more than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, their Labour counterparts, according to a new survey by ComRes. People also believe the poor rather than the rich will be most affected by public spending cuts. The findings suggest that the Coalition Government has failed to convince people that those "with the broadest shoulders" will bear the brunt of the cuts while the most vulnerable will be protected.
The poll of 2,000 people for ITV News found that only 2 per cent of the public believe that adults on high incomes will be the worst affected by the cuts, while 50 per cent think adults on low incomes will be most affected, 31 per cent say adults on middle incomes and 12 per cent say the elderly.
However, the survey provides ministers with a silver lining after the gloomy figures published on Tuesday showing the economy contracted by 0.5 per cent in the last three months of 2010.
The Prime Minister has the trust of 37 per cent – down from his 43 per cent rating last October. Mr Osborne, the Chancellor, has the trust of 25 per cent – down from 32 per cent.
Although Labour is ahead of the Tories in most opinion polls, it has not yet regained its economic credentials. Only 18 per cent of people trust Mr Miliband to sort out the country's economic problems and only 14 per cent Mr Balls. They trail Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, who scores 24 per cent.
The number of people who think the cuts will negatively affect them has risen from 48 per cent in October to 62 per cent, according to ComRes.
Yesterday Labour seized on a warning from Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor, that the current problems could last for three years. The Justice Secretary told BBC2's Daily Politics programme: "I think we face a difficult two or three years before we get back to normality. It's going to take quite a long time before we actually get that out of the system, restore the health of the real economy, do what has to be done to encourage growth among successful new businesses – small [and] medium-sized business essential to this country."
Angela Eagle, the shadow Chief Treasury Secretary, said: "David Cameron's and George Osborne's boasts before Christmas that Britain was recovering and out of the danger zone are looking pretty hollow now that the economy has ground to a halt and both unemployment and inflation are rising."
Mr Cameron admitted this week in Parliament that Tuesday's figures were "disappointing" even allowing for the bad December weather. But he said: "If you don't deal with your debts, you will never have growth." Mr Miliband replied: "If you don't have growth, you will never cut the deficit."