Mixed evidence of public’s willingness to pay more in tax for the NHS

The ever-excellent Anthony Wells writes:

The BBC have quite a detailed Ipsos MORI on public attitudes towards funding the NHS… Increasing income tax to fund the NHS was rejected by 40% to 50%. This is in contrast to a recent YouGov poll that asked a similar question and found slightly more people supported paying more income tax for the NHS than opposed it.

I think this difference is down to wording – YouGov asked specifically about increasing income tax from 20% to 21% while the MORI poll did not specify the size of the increase – indeed, a later question in MORI’s poll asks more specifically about an increase in the basic rate from 20% to 21%, and this bumps support up to 50%.

It looks like people are happy to pay more income tax for the NHS… so long as its only a modest rise.

There is rather a track record in Britain of theoretical support for tax rises taking a battering when put to the test in heated political debate, especially when atypical stories of ‘normal’ (for which read ‘earning far more than the average person’) people are rolled out by opponents.

All the more so when there’s also a widespread public view – however justified or not – that the underlying problem which a tax rise sets to fix isn’t about levels of funding but about something else.

That’s why the old 1p on income tax for education worked so well for the Liberal Democrats in a world of much lower immigration, but calls for tax rises now often run into public (mis)beliefs that the problem is immigrants putting pressure on public services rather than a shortage of cash which a tax rise could sort.

Raising taxes for a service as popular as the NHS is certainly one of the safer areas to try to raise tax – but only if you can also persuade people that it is a shortage of cash which is really the problem.

An important point for Liberal Democrats in particular to bear in mind, as considering raising taxes for the NHS is the lesser known third element (alongside education and Europe) of the party’s current policy priorities.

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