As the general election approaches, public attitudes on the cost of living remain very negative

Mark CunninghamContent Editor
Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
June 24, 2024, 6:16 AM GMT+0

The cost of living crisis has unsurprisingly become a central issue in the election, with recent YouGov polling showing 45% of Britons say that it is a key issue in deciding how they will vote, the highest for any issue.

In what will be unwelcome news for Rishi Sunak, the latest YouGov cost of living tracker poll finds that the vast majority of Britons (80%) believe that the government has been handling the cost of living poorly. This figure has barely shifted since our tracker series began in September 2022.

Crucially, this includes 62% of voters that backed the Conservatives in 2019, who the Tories desperately need to hold on to if they are to stay in Downing Street.

Even among those who still plan to vote for the party on 4 July, 38% say the government has handled the most important issue to the public badly.

Inflation may be down, but Britons are no less likely to say they are struggling with the cost of living

While the government is asking for credit for bringing inflation down from its peak of 11%, this is not reflected in the way the public feel about their finances.

Four in ten Britons (81%) still feel that shop prices are outpacing their incomes, while just 12% believe their income is keeping up. Again, this does not represent much of a reduction from a peak of 86% saying so in late 2022.

Nor are Britons noticeably less likely to say they are struggling with their bills: 42% still say they have found it difficult to pay their food bills at least occasionally in the last three months, as do 38% for their energy bills, 31% for their vehicle fuel, and 21% for their housing costs.

Overall, 22% of Britons describe themselves as struggling financially, from a peak of 29% in late 2022.

Half of Britons say they are worse off now than a year ago, with six in ten having been forced to make spending cuts

Ronald Reagan asked Americans during the 1980 presidential election whether they were better off now than they were four years ago.

Now, as we stand on the cusp of the 2024 UK general election, 48% of Britons look back at the last 12 months and say their household finances are worse than they were a year ago. This includes 45% of those key 2019 Conservative voters.

Only 12% say their household finances have improved, with 36% saying they are about the same.

Overall, six in ten Britons (61%) say they have made spending cuts at some point during the cost of living crisis, and 54% of people expect they have cuts still to make. While this former figure has not budged over the course of the crisis, the latter figure is down from a high of 76% when we first started tracking.

Only 34% of Britons say they have not made cuts to their usual spending.

Looking ahead, just 15% of people expect their household finances to improve over the next 12 months. Twice as many (31%) expect them to get worse, while 45% expect them to stay about the same.

Most Britons say the economy is in a bad shape

One of Rishi Sunak’s five pledges at the start of 2023 was to get the economy growing. However, over the course of that year GDP grew by a mere 0.1%, and actually contracted by 0.3% in the last three months of the year.

Taking a wider view of the UK economy as a whole, seven in ten Britons (69%) think it is in a bad state, while just 9% think it is doing well, and 18% say it is neither good nor bad.

Half of 2019 Conservative voters feel like the economy is doing badly, as do 86% of those who voted for Labour that year.

Few are optimistic that the economy will get better either – only one in five Britons (20%) see signs of improvement in the next 12 months, including a similar number of 2019 Tory voters.

While the number of people thinking the economy will get worse still has fallen to 35%, the number thinking the economy will remain about the same has risen to 32% - this is hardly a ringing endorsement, given how many people currently describe the economy as being in a bad state.

See the full results here

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Photo: Getty