Public support for cuts down compared to last year

Public support for the government’s spending cuts has slumped in the past year, according to the latest Harris poll for the Financial Times, reports Claire French.

Public support for the government’s spending cuts has slumped in the past year, according to the latest Harris poll (pdf) for the Financial Times (£). The poll shows that while 69 per cent of the public thought spending cuts were necessary in the last week of June last year (pdf, p13), that support had fallen to 55 per cent at the same time this year (pdf, p13).

The results showed that 45 per cent of those polled in Britain thought that the government’s austerity measures were harming the chance of economic recovery. In the past year, the economy has stagnated; as chancellor George Osborne’s tough cuts programme has been felt in households across the country, the support for belt tightening seems to be in decline.

As Graph 1 below shows, the public are now less in favour of spending cuts as the primary means to tackle the deficit than a year ago, the proportion favouring an emphasis on cuts down from 71 per cent in 2010 (pdf, p1) to 61 per cent now (pdf, p1).

Graph 1:


Having polled samples in Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the United States, Britain’s public spending cuts have the least support; last year, public support was as strong as its European counterparts.

As Chris Giles writes in the FT (£):

Adding to pressure on David Cameron’s coalition government, the poll results suggest that the public has associated the stagnant economy in Britain since last autumn with the austerity drive and are increasingly wary about the effects.

The difficulties over cuts are likely to intensify later this month when economists expect official figures to show anaemic growth in the second quarter – or perhaps continued stagnation – as public spending was sharply curtailed in the new financial year starting in April.

While the poll does not demonstrate that George Osborne’s cuts will damage the recovery, it suggests the chancellor may need to rethink his political strategy, which relied on widespread public backing for spending reductions.

In the FT last week, economic commentator Samuel Brittan wrote (£) that indirect taxes such as VAT should be temporarily lowered to offset the effects of rising inflation – an economic policy that has had the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls MP, branded a “deficit denier” by the coalition.

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