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50 percent of people do not believe there is a need to cut spending on public services in order to pay off the national debt, a RSA commissioned survey suggests.

The Ipsos MORI poll of 1,041 adults points to only a quarter of people - 24 percent  - believing that public spending cuts are necessary. It also suggests strong support amongst the British public (75 percent) for efficiency savings that could help cut government spending without damaging public services.

The survey, commissioned in advance of the RSA’s party conference events Public Services in a Cold Climate, found that the public is split on hard choices between increasing taxes or reducing spending - particularly if this impacts on key public services.

Whilst clearly no-one likes tax rises, the survey found that if forced, people are more willing to accept rises in business taxes or inheritance tax than rises in council tax, income tax or fuel duty.

The survey found that people are particularly unwilling to accept spending cuts that lead to, for example, charges for GP or hospital visits, larger class sizes, or fewer police.  

If forced, they are more willing to accept changes that they probably feel have less personal impact on them, such as requiring patients to make changes to their lifestyle before getting treatment (e.g. giving up smoking, or changing their diet), or fewer education programmes in prisons.

The Ipsos MORI poll also suggests that Conservative supporters are most likely to call for reductions in public spending rather than tax rises, while Labour supporters are more likely to want spending on public services to be maintained, even if that means increasing the tax they pay.  

The poll comes as the RSA prepares to question Vince Cable, Lord Mandelson and Philip Hammond at the three party conferences to examine differences in policy towards spending cuts.

Commenting on the survey findings, Chief Executive of the RSA Matthew Taylor said: “The results from this poll show that most people still think the public finances can be managed without them experiencing any pain. This is not a good starting point for politicians of any party to win approval for being either realistic or bold. The fiscal challenge is also a challenge of political leadership. Conference season will offer an interesting insight into how the parties intend to address the public disconnect."

Commenting on the poll, Chief Executive of Ipsos Mori, Ben Page said: "The public are still in denial about the size of spending cuts now needed. The challenge will be to deliver them without the sort of shocks and disruption that saw Mrs Thatcher as unpopular as Gordon Brown two years after taking office."

Ben Lucas, Director of the 2020 Public Services Trust said: "Public opinion is in a very difficult place for politicians. A year on from the banking collapse, the public blame the establishment – banks, business and politicians – for the state of Britain and are in no mood to accept the pain for this themselves.  This is not a 1979 moment.  The challenge for politicians across the political divide is to begin a more honest conversation with voters about the big question Britain faces – how to reduce debt, whilst responding to the challenges of an ageing and socially polarised society."

Download full press release (PDF, 85KB)


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