Taxation, welfare and inequality

Taxation, welfare and inequality

The shape of post-COVID public attitudes

The COVID-19 pandemic witnessed unprecedented levels of government spending and much
discussion of the impact of inequality on health. Now the country is facing a ‘cost of living crisis’
that seems set to have most impact on the less well-off and is resulting in calls on the government to spend large amounts of money mitigating the consequences. This chapter examines the public mood on tax and spend, welfare, and inequality in the wake of the pandemic and assesses the implications for how the public might wish the government to react now to the ‘cost of living crisis’.

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A majority of the public remains in favour of higher taxation
and government spending

There is little evidence as yet of the public turning against further government spending, despite the high levels of government intervention necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 52% say they are in favour of increasing taxes to spend more on health, education and social benefits, similar to the 53% who said this in 2019, shortly before the pandemic.
  • There is only a modest difference between Conservative (46%) and Labour Party supporters (61%) in their level of support for more government spending.

More people now think that Britain is unequal

Following the pandemic, more people now think that Britain is unequal – and an increased level of support for redistribution to the less well-off has been maintained.

  • Two-thirds (67%) agree that ordinary working people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth, up ten percentage points since 2019.
  • 49% now agree that the government should redistribute income to the less well off. The
    proportion agreeing with this statement was consistently higher during the pandemic than it was before 2012.

The public has remained relatively pro-welfare throughout
the pandemic

There were signs, pre-pandemic, that public opinion had become more pro-welfare than it had
been during New Labour’s tenure in office. This more pro-welfare stance was sustained, though did not strengthen, during the pandemic.

  • During 2020-21, an average of 40% disagreed that most people on the dole were fiddling it one way or another, compared with just 24% who agreed. Before 2014 more people agreed than disagreed with this statement.
  • Rather than agreeing with the proposition, by 2019, the public were evenly divided on whether people would stand on their own two feet if welfare benefits weren’t so generous. Opinion remained evenly balanced in 2021; 39% agreed with this statement while 38% disagreed.

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