Two thirds of people willing to pay higher taxes to fund NHS, poll finds

Findings show shows 'the strength of feeling around NHS funding'

Rachel Roberts
Sunday 17 September 2017 14:00
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The British public's affection for the NHS and determination to fight for it appears stronger than ever, a new poll has found
The British public's affection for the NHS and determination to fight for it appears stronger than ever, a new poll has found

Two in three Brions are willing to pay higher taxes to order to properly fund the NHS, a new poll has found – a significant increase in the number previously prepared to do so.

The research, carried out by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the King’s Fund think tank, found 66 per cent of respondents would be happy to pay more “in order to maintain the level of spending needed” for the health service."

In contrast, just 20 per cent are in favour of spending cuts to other key services such as welfare and education to boost funding for the NHS, while just ten per cent believe the health service should reduce either its range of services or the level of care to balance its books.

The researchers carried out interviews with 1,151 adults in an effort to find out about public attitudes towards the NHS as it approaches its 70th birthday next year.

The poll found the overwhelming majority, at 77 per cent, believed the NHS was “crucial to British society” and that it must be properly maintained.

Some politicians and commentators on the right have suggested the NHS has grown into an organisation too large to be manageable and may no longer be fit for purpose, with various private sector solutions being proposed – but the survey found the public is overwhelmingly opposed to this idea.

Just 23 per cent agreed that “the NHS was a great project but we probably can’t maintain it in its current form” compared to 67 per cent who think it should remain free at the point of delivery.

Younger people were even more in favour of defending freedom of access than older respondents, even though they are significantly less likely to use the service in the near future. 81 per cent of 15-34 year-olds compared to 74 per cent of those aged 55 and older said the NHS was crucial and everything possible must be done to maintain it.

“The fact that two-thirds of the public are saying that they would pay more tax to fund it shows the strength of feeling around NHS funding. This finding comes at a time of unprecedented levels of public concern about the NHS’s future; pessimism about that is at a record level,” said Dan Wellings, who co-authored the report and previously worked as head of insight and feedback for NHS England until April this year.

“Clearly the [rising] volume of noise around the problems the NHS is facing, and the warnings from within the health sector around inadequate funding, are increasingly cutting through to the public in a significant way.”

The 66 per cent backing for higher taxes to fund the NHS is one of the highest figures ever recorded since pollsters began posing questions about its willingness to sacrifice more of their own salary for the services founded by Labour Health Minister Aneurian Bevan in 1948. A similar poll carried out in 2014 found less than half of respondents would be happy to pay more income tax as long as the money went directly to the service.

Campaign groups, unions and politicians have repeatedly warned the NHS is struggling to cope with staffing shortages and is under threat because it is not being properly funded.

The Conservative Government has faced frequent accusations that it is attempting to sell off the NHS by gradually allowing the private sector to eccroach on it. The New Labour Government under Tony Blair was also criticised for introducing private sector involvement in the NHS through PFIs (Private Finance Initiatives).

“Clearly the [rising] volume of noise around the problems the NHS is facing, and the warnings from within the health sector around inadequate funding, are increasingly cutting through to the public in a significant way,” Mr Wellings said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “It is encouraging to see that support for the NHS remains as high as ever and the public can be reassured that the government is committed to continued investment in the health service, including an extra £8bn over the next five years.

“Despite being busy, the NHS has been ranked by the independent Commonwealth Fund as the best, safest and most affordable healthcare system out of 11 wealthy nations.”

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