In the wake of a general election that gave Boris Johnson a big victory, there are good reasons to think that the Prime Minister will open the spending taps. The current 80 seat majority owes much to Conservative success in winning former Labour strongholds, where voters want to see better public services.
In advance of next month’s budget the government is rumoured to be considering higher taxes on wealth to help fund promises to “level up” newly Conservative areas. Focus groups carried out over the last couple of months by Tax Justice UK and Survation found that this would be popular.
Today we’re publishing our report What's wealth got to do with it? that lays out what we found when we asked voters their views on the election, the state of public services and the role that taxes on wealth could play in supporting government spending. The groups took place in new Conservative seats in former Labour heartlands such as Blyth and Wrexham, as well as other areas including London and Reading.
More or less everyone we heard from was desperate to see investment in their communities and many supported higher taxes on wealth to help pay for this. No one we spoke to called for tax cuts.
There was strong support for ensuring that income from wealth is taxed at the same level as income from work. Increasing capital gains tax would achieve this. There was more qualified support for reducing pension tax relief on the highest earners and adding more council tax bands for the most expensive houses.
Whilst it’s possible to make the case for more progressive taxation, the public was put off by language bashing the rich. This was in part because the people we talked to had very different ideas of what “wealth” meant, with many seeing it as having enough to live comfortably, as opposed to being very rich.
People were also deeply skeptical about whether politicians will deliver on their promises. There was little enthusiasm for either Labour or the Conservatives.
There are lessons here for the Conservatives. “Getting Brexit done” resonated among voters fed up with the stalemate of Westminster politics in the aftermath of the EU referendum. People expect the government to be able to deliver solutions to the long term decline experienced in many of the places we visited.
And there are lessons for those seeking to be leader of the Labour party. The public will support policies to increase taxes on wealth but broad attacks on the rich go down badly with most voters we spoke to.
We will follow up this report with further focus groups and an opinion poll after the budget in March. This next stage will help us work out what messages about wealth and tax resonate the most with the public.
You can read and download the report here. This research was supported by the University of Sheffield and the Friends Provident Foundation.