The appetite among British voters for more austerity is evaporating, polling for the Financial Times shows, in findings that present a big political problem for the winner of the next election.
The Populus poll shows that only two in five voters now believe that more austerity and cuts will be needed in the five years after the 2015 election, even though the budget deficit is forecast by the OBR to be £75.2bn in 2015-16.
The survey also found that most voters think that any remaining deficit reduction can be achieved by an efficient government cutting waste – without having any serious impact on the lives of ordinary people.
The findings come as businesses want the next government to raise spending on infrastructure and deepen cuts in welfare, separate research for the Financial Times has found.
Company bosses want deficit reduction to be complete by 2018-19, while making room to invest in areas that can support long-term growth, according to a sample of 172 members of the CBI, the business lobby group, polled for the FT.
The public’s waning appetite for austerity will worry both Labour and Conservatives, since it marks a breakdown of a widespread acceptance of the need for cuts after the coalition took power in 2010. “This just shows the need to get on and do things while the public are still with you,” said one Treasury official. “That’s what they did in Ireland.”
George Osborne had hoped to eliminate the deficit before next May’s election, but whoever occupies the Treasury in 2015 will have to impose further big cuts on a public that is showing signs of austerity fatigue.
The Populus poll shows just 41 per cent of people agree “we will need to continue with austerity and cuts in government spending over the next five years”, while 28 per cent said further cuts would not be needed and 18 per cent said they were not necessary in the first place.
Furthermore, some 48 per cent of people thought “an efficient government” should fairly easily be able to achieve the necessary savings by cutting waste “so there should be no need for cuts in the areas that really affect people”.
Only 33 per cent of voters accepted any government would have to implement savings that had a direct impact on people.
The Populus polling finds that voters are predictably more likely to support cuts that sounded least painful for them – suggesting bankers and owners of expensive homes could find themselves being asked to pay more.
It finds that 80 per cent favour a further crackdown on tax avoidance, 79 per cent another tax on bank bonuses, 65 per cent support a so-called “mansion tax” and 63 per cent back a tax on excess profits on utility companies, broadly Labour policies.
Meanwhile the least popular measures for tackling the deficit included the further sale of publicly owned assets (29 per cent) and means-testing pensioner benefits (31 per cent).
Populus also asked Labour and Conservative candidates at the next election to list their “top 10 deficit-cutting measures” and found a sharp contrast between the two parties – confirming the high political stakes.
Prospective Labour MPs expect Ed Miliband to focus on tax avoidance, higher taxation of bankers, a mansion tax, a windfall tax on utilities including energy companies, and an increase in the top rate of income tax to 50p.
Tory MPs are likely to press David Cameron to privatise remaining state assets and land, cut the number of government departments, cut the budgets of most departments except the NHS and to cut the welfare bill.
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