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Backing for more taxation and public spending falls among Labour supporters

11 March 2020

The proportion of Labour supporters who think the government should increase taxes and spend more on health, education and social benefits has fallen significantly, according to findings from the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.

  • Backing for tax and spend among Labour supporters falls from 67% in 2017 to 57% in 2019
  • 53% of people in Britain support more tax and spend, down from 60% in 2017
  • Half of Conservative supporters (52%) back more tax and spend
  • Older and degree-educated people more supportive of tax and spend than the young and those without formal educational qualifications
  • Health and education top list of priorities for extra public spending

Gap closes between Conservative and Labour supporters

Con Vs Labour Tax Spend Chart

The British Social Attitudes survey, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, has found that 57% of Labour supporters think the government should increase taxes and spend more on health, education and social benefits, compared with 52% of Conservative supporters.

The proportion of Labour supporters who think the government should increase taxes and spend more fell by ten percentage points between 2017 and 2019, from 67% to 57%. At the same time, support for an increase in tax and spending has remained relatively stable among Conservative voters, at 52% in 2019, after an increase from 35% in 2015 to 53% in 2017.

At just five percentage points, the margin of difference between supporters of the two major parties on the issue of taxation and public spending is the smallest ever recorded on the British Social Attitudes survey, which began in 1983. 

Long term trends in attitudes towards taxation and spending

For a third consecutive year, over half the public think the government should increase taxes and spend more on health, education and social benefits.

53% of people supported more tax and spend in 2019, down from 57% in 2018 and 60% in 2017, when support for tax and spend reached a fifteen-year high. 37% now say that tax and spend should remain the same, while only 5% think that government should reduce tax and spend less.

Tax Spend Natcen

Differences by age and education level

Support for increasing tax and spending more on public services was generally higher among older people than younger people in 2019.

By Age

Attitudes towards tax and spend also appeared to be associated with level of education in 2019, with support for more tax and spend at 58% among those with degrees and 49% among those with no formal qualifications.

Education Level

Priorities for government spending

When asked what the government’s top spending priorities should be, health came out first overall for all groups, regardless of age, level of education or party political identity. 41% of respondents gave health as their top priority for additional investment, followed by education (20%), police and prisons (11%), and housing (11%).

Gov Spending

Conservative supporters were three times more likely (21%) than Labour supporters (7%) to cite police and prisons as their highest priority for extra government spending, with Labour voters more supportive of investment in health.