Voters want cost-of-living assistance more than increased funding for public services

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
March 05, 2024, 10:42 AM GMT+0

Most nevertheless say that public services are in a bad state

In February, two separate YouGov polls showed that most Britons would prefer the government prioritise public spending over tax cuts.

Given this, many commentators queried why the government seemed determined to press ahead with tax cuts, given the public’s clearly-stated preference for fixing public services.

However, ahead of the 2024 Budget, new poll findings call into question this preference for putting more money towards public services.

A variation of that same question which more explicitly notes that the cuts would be on taxes that “everyday people pay” closes the gap considerably, with 41% supporting tax cuts in this scenario, although this is still lower than the 47% who would prefer to put money towards public services.

However, if rather than asking about tax cuts we instead ask about “measures to reduce the cost of living (e.g. measures that reduce food, energy and housing bills)”, then a remarkable shift occurs. Now, fully 64% would rather prioritise cost of living measures, compared to only 26% who would want to put the money towards public services.

The results show that even those who think public services are in a ‘very’ bad state would prefer to put any extra cash towards reducing the cost of living (53%), rather than putting it towards improving public services (39%). This is distinctly not the case when the issue is framed as one of tax cuts versus public spending.

While tax cuts do tend to appeal more than public spending increases to those who are in difficult circumstances financially (50-60%), measures to assist on the cost of living are more popular still (77-78%).

Those who say they are comfortable financially are the most likely to support increasing spending on public services (52-54%) rather than tax cuts (38%). But when the choice is between cost of living assistance versus more money for public services, the well-off join all other groups in plumping for the former (56%).

And while it’s not surprising that those who feel that their personal tax rate is too high tend to prefer a policy of tax cuts (60%) over increased public spending (31%), they are even more amenable to the prospect of measures to reduce the cost of living (76%).

Britons say public services are in a bad state

None of this is to say that the public aren’t concerned about the state of public services in Britain.

Asked about public services in general, a mere 14% consider them to be in good shape. By contrast, 79% consider public services to be in a bad state, including 32% who say they are in a “very bad” way.

When asked about specific public services, opinion differs greatly. For instance, 49% of the public believe that fire services are in good shape. However, at the other end of the table, only 11% see social care as functioning well, with the same number applying for the NHS, and 13% for hospitals.

Fully 86% of Britons believe the NHS is in a bad state currently, including 51% who say it is in a “very” bad shape.

Both Labour and Conservative voters share a gloomy assessment of the state of public services, with a majority seeing almost all services listed as being in a state of disrepair.

Britons are divided on whether they pay too much tax, but most agree taxes on lower earners are too high

Britons are split on whether they themselves pay too much tax: 43% say they do, while 39% think they’re paying about the right amount.

There is more agreement that lower earners are taxed too heavily. A majority of 54% believe that both those on ‘low incomes’ and those on ‘lower-than-average incomes’ are taxed too much. For those on average incomes there is division once again, with 39% thinking average earners are taxed too highly, while 43% think they are taxed appropriately.

When it comes to ‘higher-than-average’ earners there is a more of a split in the opposite direction: 37% think they are taxed too little, while 33% think they pay about the right amount of tax (and 16% think they are taxed too highly).

And for those on ‘high incomes’, fully 62% of Britons believe them to be under-taxed, with only 16% thinking tax rates for high earners are about right.

Again, 2019 Conservative and Labour voters are generally in agreement when it comes to tax rates. Both generally see those on below-average wages as being taxed too highly, and a majority of both groups feel that those on high incomes aren’t taxed enough. Tory voters are more likely to think that the tax rate on average earners is about right (49%) rather than too high (37%), while Labour voters are split 41-42% on the issue.

Results tables coming shortly

Photo: Getty