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12 July 2023

Britons broadly aligned on tackling poverty and inequality

Major study finds Britons broadly aligned on tackling poverty and inequalities

Liam Byrne Conference

Newly published polling shows a striking level of consensus on public attitudes to inequality and on the best ways to tackle poverty and inequalities, which challenges conventional narratives about post-Brexit divisions in the UK.

The results of the polling appear in a report launched today at a conference in the House of Commons, convened by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Inclusive Growth, the Policy Institute at King’s College London and the Fairness Foundation.

The conference, Towards the Manifestos: Whats the agenda for fixing poverty and tackling inequalities? brings together more than 120 of Britain’s experts working on growth, poverty and inequalities in the UK, from a range of perspectives and sectors, including academic and think-tank policy experts, campaigners and politicians from different political parties.

The polling shows broad public support for a wide range of potential solutions to poverty and inequalities, across seven areas (employment, tax, social security, housing, health, education and equalities).

While there are important differences of opinion about some policies between respondents based on their life stage, politics or broader mindset (whether they put more emphasis on individual actions or structural factors in determining life outcomes), the polling results in general point to relatively consistent views across generations and political divides, with plenty of potential for common ground.

Key findings:

  • Analysis of responses by demographic breakdowns within the population shows a surprising degree of consistency across political, generational and other divides. For example, there are very consistent views of tax system measures among different generations and voters for the two main parties. However, there are bigger differences between generations and between supporters of different political parties on social security measures, mental health services, and on housing and equalities policies.
  • People don’t see action in one area as being a ‘magic bullet’ for reducing inequality in Britain over the next 10 years. When asked to rank solutions by the area that they think would work best, 16% ranked the tax system first, 14% for social security, 12% for education, 12% for health, 11% for housing, 9% for employment and 5% for equalities policies to tackle discrimination.
  • When asked about providing financial support for younger generations by increasing inheritance tax to pay £10,000 to everyone under 25, 35% support such a payment in the form of a one-off cash payment, but 41% support it in the form of a reduction in income tax that would only help people who were working. Older people are much less supportive of a cash payment, while there is less of a difference between generations on the option of a tax break.
  • There are wide variations in support for specific policy options. For example, from five options focused on tax reform, 32% chose reducing tax avoidance as the policy that they supported most, while only 7% opted for replacing inheritance tax with a ‘gift tax’. Of the five employment options, 26% chose fixing chief executive pay at a maximum of 20 times the amount earned by the lowest paid as the policy they supported most, compared to 5% who opted for increasing the power of employees in companies.
  • When asked which policies they saw as most credible for a new UK Government to introduce (and most likely to be followed up by a party that had promised to introduce them), there is much less variation between policy options, with most of the options presented being viewed as credible by between 50% and 70% of respondents.

Liam Byrne MP, Co-Chair of the APPG on Inclusive Growth, said:

“As the countdown begins to next year’s political manifestos, it is vital we have the best options on the table for fixing poverty and tackling inequality.

“That is why politicians across the political divide are coming together with experts now, to ensure that we maximise the consensus about what works and clarify what Britain sees as the credible, popular steps forward.

“This hopeful polling shows that it is possible for people of different ages and political allegiances to come together in support of policies to tackle inequalities.

“Modern Britain began in 1945 when fair-minded people came together to insist on change. Today, that legacy of social security, free education, the NHS and progressive taxation is under pressure. But what our polling reveals is that now – just as in 1945 – there is a wide, deep and broad coalition for change. That should give us hope, optimism but above all, a sense of urgency in turning big ideas into plans for change.”

John Penrose MP, Co-Chair of the APPG on Inclusive Growth, said:

“Britain’s public debates on poverty need a fundamental reboot in the face of huge changes from digitisation and the rise of AI, and to cope with the after-shocks of Brexit, a pandemic and a war in Europe. Our welfare state is 70 years old and, while it has achieved great things, progress on fixing things like poverty and health inequalities has stalled, and the spiralling costs of an ageing society mean a new generational settlement will be needed soon too.

“No matter where we sit on the political spectrum, we can’t keep trotting out comfort-zone answers when the world is changing so fast. We need new ideas and approaches so poverty isn’t treated as a long-term health condition which every society has to manage forever, but as a problem which can be solved instead. I hope this conference will help to frame some of these questions and to identify areas where we agree or disagree, so we can all begin this essential journey.”

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

“A key factor in driving attitudes to inequalities is whether people think they’re mainly down to individual effort or talent or to circumstances that help some people and hold other people back.

“This study shows that there are distinct mindsets among the public – but also that very few people see it as wholly down to the individual or wholly down to their circumstances. And, more than that, while there are differences between Labour and Conservative supporters, these are not huge – with large proportions of Conservatives recognising there is an important role for factors outside of individuals’ control and large proportions of Labour supporters recognising the role of individual talent and hard work in creating inequalities.

“People mostly see it is a mix, and that leaves a lot of common ground for responses to an issue that a clear majority say should be tackled.”

Towards the Manifestos Report

Polling and analysis on public attitudes to tackling poverty and inequality

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