Public at ‘tipping point’ on attitude towards cuts poll shows

19 November 2012

People’s attitudes towards cuts to public spending and reduced living standards may be reaching a ‘tipping point’ with high concerns about the future effect on themselves and their family, an RSA commissioned survey suggests.

The RSA Austerity Tracker Poll (MS Excel Worksheet, 292KB) conducted with an Ipsos MORI survey of 1009 adults aged 16-75 showed that when asked ‘if you or your family have been affected by the cuts’ a surprising fifty-nine per cent of people replied ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all’. A third of people said they had been affected.

However, when asked about the effect the cuts will have on their family over the next twelve months, sixty-one per cent were either very or fairly concerned. Nearly half of people (48%) felt the government has made the wrong decisions about where the cuts should be made.

Comparing their personal financial circumstances with twelve months ago, three times as many people felt they had got worse (43%) rather than better (14%). When asked about their personal experience of a range of public services over the last year, users were most likely to say that they had stayed the same, but between 20% (users of refuse collection and primary schools) and 37% (those with experience of the police) felt they had got worse in the last 12 months.

The poll was commissioned by the RSA ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement which is widely predicted to announce yet more pain for public services. It will be re-run on a regular basis to track the changing impact of the austerity programme.

The poll showed that thirty-eight per cent of people currently have no idea what proportion of the Government’s spending cuts have been carried out so far. The results showed that half of people believe a higher proportion of cuts have been carried out than is actually the case (51% think 20% or more of the cuts have been carried out so far - see notes to editors).

When asked if they are worried that government and public services will do too little to help people in the years ahead, sixty-nine per cent agreed and only nine per cent disagreed.

The poll follows a recently published report by the RSA and the Social Market Foundation that revealed a £48bn ‘black hole’ in the public finances. Fiscal Fallout discovered that the deteriorating economic situation means that a further £22bn of cuts will need to be found by 2018 if the Chancellor is to reach his goal of eradicating the structural deficit.

This will mean savings of 23% from departmental spending will needed if current spending priorities are to be protected and £10.5bn from welfare is found, the report concluded.

Commenting on the Ipsos MORI poll, RSA Director of Programme, Adam Lent said:

“Our poll reveals that cuts have yet to have a major impact on most people’s every-day lives. However, concern is clearly much higher that the pain will be felt over the next year. With the vast bulk of the Chancellor’s spending reductions yet to come, this presents the Government with maybe its biggest challenge. It is vital that the Chancellor uses the Autumn Statement to launch a national debate about how public services can be rethought from the ground up so they can adapt to a radically new financial environment.”

When asked whether in recent years the government and public services have tried to do too much, and people should take more responsibility for their own lives, forty-four per cent agreed and twenty four per cent disagreed.

But when asked whether there was a need to cut public spending on public services in order to pay off the very high level of national debt we now have, people were split, with thirty-five per cent agreeing and thirty-nine per cent disagreeing.  Only 28%, though, say they are personally happy to accept less from public services in order to pay off the national debt. 

Seventy-five per cent of public sector workers questioned by the RSA and Ipsos MORI said they felt their organisation had been affected a great deal or a fair amount by the cuts. Only two per cent said their employer remained unaffected by reduced public spending.

Notes to Editors

  • For an interviews with RSA Director of Programme, Adam Lent call 020 7451 6835.
  • For detailed discussions about the data contact Gideon Skinner, Research Director, Social Research Institute - Ipsos MORI on +44 20 7347 3260, or Ashish Prashar, Head of Media Ipsos MORI on 07775 501839
  • Ipsos MORI interviewed 1,009 British adults online between 9-11 November 2012, as part of Ipsos MORI’s online omnibus.  Data are weighted to be representative of the population.
  • Figures from the IFS predict only 12% of the cuts to public services will have been by end of 2012: The IFS Green Budget February 2012