Britons and the Economy - Election Battleground Series

  • Research
  • 20 November 2023

More in Common Pre-Autumn Statement Briefing on the British public's attitudes to the economy, tax and spending

The Autumn Statement is one of the few set piece moments the Government has left to try and change the political weather before the next General Election. With Party Conference and the King’s Speech having been blown off course by internal rows, the window for any ‘reset’ has narrowed considerably. However our research finds that navigating the nuances, complexity and occasional contradictions of public opinion on tax and spending will not be easy.

We find the public:

  • Prefer to see higher level of public spending but also to reduce the deficit
  • Think the Government can always find the money for important spending if they want to
  • Would rather see spending cuts than tax rises and aren’t prepared to pay more personally
  • Want to see increased spending on big ticket areas such as health, defence and education
  • Blame the Government for high inflation but do not credit the Government for inflation falling
  • Think almost 9% of public spending goes on MPs pay and benefits

Among the most popular potential Autumn Statement measures:

  • Cuts to specific taxes such as council tax, inheritance tax and stamp duty
  • Raising taxes on business rather than individuals and in particular increasing corporation tax
  • Measures to tighten up the benefit system and do more to support and require people to find work

Key findings

Inflation: The cost of living continues to be the dominant issue of concern for the public. The public hold the Government responsible for rising inflation, but doesn't give the Government credit for bringing inflation down. More economically right leaning groups give the Government more credit.


Deficit: The public want to close the deficit - only 17 per cent say deficit reduction should not be a priority. The public are more than twice as likely to say that the deficit should be closed through spending cuts (47 per cent) than tax rises (19 per cent).

Magic money tree: High levels of pandemic and energy support spending over the last few years has made the public more likely to think the Government can find money if it needs/wants to - more than half (51 per cent) say that the last few years have shown that the Government always can find the money if it wants to, compared to just over a third (35 per cent) who say the last few years show there are limits to what Government can afford to spend. Loyal Nationals (Red Wall voters) are the second most likely to think that the Government can find the money if it needs or wants to.

Tax: Half of the public support cutting council tax (57 per cent), fuel duty (50 per cent), VAT (49 per cent) and inheritance tax (49 per cent). Broadly speaking, the public are in a tax cutting rather than tax raising mood. The only public support for increasing taxes is increases to alcohol duty or corporation tax. Taxes on business are particularly popular - when asked where increased public spending should come from, a plurality say taxes on businesses - this again includes higher than average support among the Loyal National group.

Spending: The public are evenly split (52:48) over whether the chancellor should raise or cut public spending. While more partisan segments have clear views one way or another, both main electoral swing segments (Established Liberals and Loyal Nationals) are slightly more likely than average to support raising rather than cutting public spending. 

NHS spending: Two thirds of the public think that the Government should be spending more on the NHS - a view that is held most strongly among Civic Pragmatists and Loyal Nationals.  However, the public are only willing to pay on average £5 more per month in tax to pay for increased NHS spending. 

Blame for waiting lists: The public are almost three times more likely to blame NHS waiting lists on poor NHS management (31 per cent)  than a lack of funding for the NHS (11 per cent). Poor NHS management attracts more blame than the Government itself for record waiting lists. 

Benefits: The public are evenly divided over whether benefits should be uprated by more or less the rate of inflation. The public generally is slightly more likely to want to uprate benefits by the rate of inflation (44 per cent) than less than the rate of inflation (40 per cent). While the public are divided on whether benefits are too high or too low, they are more than twice as likely to think that it is too easy than too difficult to claim benefits, and they want to see more action from the Government to force benefit claimants to look for work.