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Support for more tax & spend at fifteen-year high

21 September 2018

The majority of Brits think the government should increase levels of tax and public spending – the highest proportion in fifteen years, according to findings from the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.

  • 67% of Labour supporters and 53% of Conservative supporters think the government should increase taxes and spending on public services
  • Older people more supportive of more tax and spend than young
  • Health and education top list of priorities for extra public spending

The majority of Brits think the government should increase levels of tax and public spending – the highest proportion in fifteen years, according to findings from the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.

The research by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) shows that 60% of people are in favour of the government taxing and spending more, up from 49% in 2016 and 31% in 2010 when support for tax and spending increases were at its lowest. 33% now say that tax and spend should remain the same. Only 4% think that government should tax and spend less, the same as the previous year.

Those aged 55 and over are significantly more inclined (65%) to state that tax and spending should be increased than those aged 18-34 (54%). This trend appears to be consistent over time, with those aged 35 and over being more likely to back increased tax and spending than those aged 18-34 since 1993.

Although Labour supporters remain more likely than Conservative supporters to say that the government should increase tax and spending on health, education and social benefits (67% vs 53%), there has been a significant rise in Conservative voter support which has increased by 18 percentage points from 35% in 2015. The last time over half of Conservative voters thought the government should increase tax and spending was in 2002, when support among the whole population for public spending was at an all-time high. In contrast, 40% of Conservative supporters and 26% of Labour supporters believe the government should keep taxes and spending the same. Just 4% of Labour and Conservative supporters think the government should reduce tax and spend.

When asked what the top priority for extra public spending should be, the majority of respondents say they would like to see government spend more on health (54%),followed by education (26%) and housing (7%). Social security (2%), public transport (1%) and overseas aid (0%) were least popular.

All age groups cite health as the main priority for increased spending, but a generational dimension is reflected here; 18-34 year olds are more likely to favour increased spending on education (37%) compared with those aged 35-54 (26%) and 55+ year olds (18%). Reversely, older age groups place a higher importance on increases in health spending (53% for those aged 35-54, 59% for 55 year olds and over) than younger respondents (47%).

There were also notable differences between attitudes by people’s political party support. While both Conservative and Labour supporters view health as their top spending priority (54% both), 30% of Labour voters want more spending on education to be the top priority compared with 20% of Conservative voters. Equally, more Labour voters (8%) than Conservative supporters (5%) think increasing public spend for housing should come first. In turn, Conservative supporters are more likely to say extra government spending on defence should be the first priority (8%) than those supporting Labour (1%).

NatCen’s Head of Public Attitudes, Roger Harding, said: “Since 2010 the proportion of people who want more tax and spend has nearly doubled and shows the country is clearly tiring of austerity. The question for the government is whether their recent spending announcements have done enough to meet public demand for more public investment, including now from a majority of their own voters. The question for Labour is whether they can win over the many older people who support more spending but currently do not support the party.”