New poll: keep the 50p rate but cut VAT

The public want the 50p tax rate to be made permanent, according to a New Statesman/ICD poll.

Barely a week goes by without George Osborne hinting that he will abolish the 50p tax rate in the near future. On Saturday he told the Today programme: "I don't see that as a lasting tax rate for Britain because it's very uncompetitive internationally, and people frankly can move."

However, an exclusive poll by ICD for the New Statesman shows that the public take a different view. Asked if the 50p rate should be made permanent, 34 per cent said yes and 30 per cent said no (see graph). But asked if the starting threshold for the top rate should be reduced from £150,000 to £100,000, something that Ed Balls has suggested remains a possibility, 44 per cent said no and 37 per cent said yes.

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However, the poll found overwhelming support for Balls's proposal of a temporary cut in VAT. Asked if the government should adopt this policy, 68 per cent said yes and 20 per cent said no (see graph). There is also widespread support for a permanent cut in VAT, with 65 per cent in favour and 18 per cent opposed.

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Osborne has persistently described the 50p rate as "temporary" and the VAT increase as "permanent". But the public, it seems, takes the reverse view.

This exclusive poll for the New Statesman was carried out by ICD Research, powered by ID Factor, from 6-7 August 2011 and is based on a sample of 1,000 responses

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.