The sun goes in; the clouds come out

Public Reaction to the Government’s Stormy Budget

Georgiana Brown

Last July we reported on the public’s reaction to Chancellor George Osborne’s big, and rather sunny, first Budget of the new Parliament, following the Conservative’s General Election victory and unexpectedly positive economic growth figures: like when you discover some nice crisp notes tucked away in your holiday handbag.

But, just when you think Spring might be around the corner, you are told to prepare for more storms. And so it was yesterday, with Osborne warning of a “dangerous cocktail” of global risks and announcing a further £3.5bn of spending cuts to come by 2020.

It wasn’t all doom, with the all-round pleaser of the personal allowance raised again, now up to £11,500. This was greeted by a general hurrah amongst our Harris24 survey1 respondents, whose opinions we sought yesterday just after the Budget announcements. 69% agreed the personal allowance increase is good for the country, with 74% saying it will have a good or very good impact on them personally – the most well received of the major announcements.

Budget 2016

Jamie Oliver’s exuberant face yesterday showed how much the government backing his call for a sugar tax means to him. Well he can smile some more in the knowledge that the British public are with him too, with 55% in agreement with this measure (compared to 24% disagreeing it’s good for the country). The proportion saying it’s good for them personally is lower though, at 44%.

Across other areas it’s gone down as a bit of a mixed picture:

  • Regarding Public Spending, just 25% agree that the additional £3.5bn of cuts are a good thing for the UK, whilst 38% disagree (and 37% neither agree nor disagree).
  • When it comes to Tax, 44% agree that the 40% tax threshold rise from £42,385 to £45,000 in April 2017 is a positive thing for the country, whilst 25% disagree (and 31% are in the middle).
  • Pensions and Savings changes have pleased overall, with a solid majority agreeing that the increase in the ISA limit to £20,000 (58%) and new ‘lifetime ISA’ for the under-40s (53%) are positive moves for the UK. 53% of people also agree that the new state-backed savings scheme for low-paid workers is a good thing.
    • However, only 16% agree that the abolishment of the Money Advice Service is a good move – the lowest approval of all the Budget announcements.
  • Regarding Business announcements, most respondents (46%) neither agreed nor disagreed that the reduction of the corporation tax rate (to fall from 20% to 17%) is a good thing, though more rated it positively (32%) than negatively (22%). A strong majority are on board with the increase from £6,000 to £12,000 in the annual threshold for small business tax relief, with 51% saying they agree the measure is good for the country.
  • Turning to Infrastructure, Transportation and Housing, two in five (43%) agree the planned new rail lines are a good thing, while an even higher proportion (60%) believe the £230m earmarked for road improvements in England is good for the country. Half (50%) also agree that halving the toll between England and Wales is a positive move, while 69% agree with the £700m for flood defence schemes. Only 33% agree with the 0.5% rise in insurance premiums that will pay for this though (28% disagree). One of the strongest agreements is the announcement of £115m allocated to reduce rough sleeping (67%).
  • Aside from the sugar tax endorsement, on the Health side 63% are in support of LIBOR funds being used on children’s hospital services. But only 32% agree with the much criticised reduction in personal payment allowances, albeit softened (at least in Osborne’s mind) in the Budget announcement itself by stating that there will be an overall increase in the disability budget in real terms.
  • Finally, on Education, half (50%) agree with secondary schools bidding for £285m in extra funding, while slightly fewer (48%) agree with the plan to keep a quarter of schools open after 3.30pm. But the plan for all schools to become academies by 2022 has not gone down well with the British public, with only 25% agreeing this is good for the country and 34% in disagreement. The plan to require students to study maths up to age 18 has gone down better (49% agreement), as has the £500m to ensure ‘fair funding’ across English schools (47% agreement).

This was Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn’s first Budget – except he could sit back and enjoy the view from across the bench. And he did not hold back in his commentary, claiming: “This is a Government with failure on the police, failure on the National Health Service, failure on social care, housing and education” – a sentiment that 48% of those we asked agree with, compared to only 22% disagreeing.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people think Corbyn would do a better job: the Conservatives still lead on voting preference (34% share, vs. 30% for Labour, with the Lib Dems on 7%). And when asked to judge Corbyn’s first six months as leader of the Labour party, only 28% say it’s been good or very good, with 45% saying it’s been bad or very bad (27% are unsure).

So what of our membership of the European Union (EU), which Osborne is receiving criticism for dragging into his Budget speech? Well, according to the general sample we spoke to yesterday, the ‘in’ vote has it, with 40% wishing to remain a member of the EU, and 33% wishing to leave. Whilst 6% cannot or will not vote in the referendum in June, 22% intend to but have yet to make up their minds: the news, debates, information and opinions they respond to in the next three months will determine which road we walk down.

Whilst split on some of the Budget changes and Osborne vs. Corbyn, when looking across the pond at the Presidential race stateside, we’re much more united. According to our survey sample, if it were up to the British population, a Democratic victory would be guaranteed, with Hillary Clinton making history as the first female President of the United States with a 63% share of the vote amongst those expressing an opinion – streaks ahead of fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders (17%), with Republican Donald Trump the choice for only 14%, and Ted Cruz (4%) and John Kasich (2%) a distant fourth and fifth.

Whilst 25% of the UK population find the US nomination campaign interesting, 31% feel it’s embarrassing, and 38% consider it downright alarming. The fact that we live on this side of the water in our relatively calm and courteous political landscape may perhaps be of some comfort as we button up our coats and pull out our umbrellas in preparation for those passing showers.

[1] Harris24 survey of 1,050 UK adults aged 18+, conducted on 16 March 2016.


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