UK public turns against austerity as 48% support higher taxes for better services, survey shows

More people now support greater redistribution of income between rich and poor, with particular backing for increased spending on disabled people

Ben Chapman@b_c_chapman
Wednesday 28 June 2017 14:26
comments
The British Social Attitudes Survey found 48 per cent of people would pay more for better services, while 44 per cent want spending to remain the same
The British Social Attitudes Survey found 48 per cent of people would pay more for better services, while 44 per cent want spending to remain the same

After seven years of cuts, the public mood has shifted against austerity, according to one of the most wide-ranging national opinion surveys.

Many people have had enough of large real-terms cuts to health, social care, the police and disability benefits, among other areas, according to the annual British Social Attitudes Survey, which found 48 per cent of people would pay more for better services, while 44 per cent want spending to remain the same.

It is the first time since the financial crisis that the survey has found more people back increased spending than don’t.

More people now support greater redistribution of income between rich and poor, with particular backing for increased spending on disabled people, the survey found.

The researchers said that the UK is now deeply divided, but that political faultlines are no longer between traditional right and left.

Despite the backlash against cuts, some attitudes more traditionally associated with the right have become more prevalent.

There is little support for increased unemployment benefits spending, for example. Half of people think that those out of work could find a job if they tried. Perhaps more surprisingly, more people surveyed consider benefit fraud to be wrong than tax evasion, even though the latter is far more costly to the public purse.

Record numbers of people think more should be spent on defence and the majority want authorities to be given strong powers to respond to terrorism and crime. The UK already has some of the most draconian powers for mass surveillance and detention without trial anywhere in the world.

Despite these views, the survey found that “the onward march of social liberalism continues”. Record proportions of people are comfortable with same-sex relationships, pre-marital sex and abortion, among other issues. While younger people are still more liberal on these subjects than older people, the difference is narrowing, according to the research.

“People’s top priorities for more spending remain as they have always been – health and education,” the report stated. Around 8 in 10 think the government should spend more or much more on health; 7 in 10 on education, and 6 in 10 on the police.

On Brexit, the report’s authors say that the most prominent explanation for the Brexit vote - that it was a result of a “rising anti-politics tide” is wide of the mark.

“People’s level of trust in government at most played only a minor role in influencing how they voted. Instead, the result reflected the concerns of older, more ‘authoritarian’ or social conservative voters who were particularly worried about immigration,” the report said.

The key dividing line in the referendum was level of education, not class, political leanings or age, the report said.

The report comes as Jeremy Corbyn challenges Theresa May and the Conservatives on Wednesday to show commitment to ending austerity by backing a Labour amendment to the Queen's Speech.

Labour's amendment calls for an end to cuts to the police and fire services, commends their response to recent terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower disaster, backs the recruitment of more officers and firefighters, and calls on the Government to lift the public sector pay cap.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments