Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Economy
22 September 2022

British voters move left on the economy, as Liz Truss drags it to the right

Enthusiasm is growing in Britain for higher taxes and spending on public services, and redistribution of wealth.

By Anoosh Chakelian and Katharine Swindells

Liz Truss says that she’s prepared to be unpopular. She’d better be. The British public is moving further to the left on how the economy should be run, just as the Prime Minister is trying to drag it rightwards.

Appetite for government intervention in the economy is rising, as is concern about inequality, and enthusiasm for redistribution of income from the better-off to the poorer, according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

A majority of the British public (52 per cent), polled in Autumn 2021, said the government should increase taxes and spend more on health, education and social benefits. The publication of the survey comes just as Truss and her government are announcing a plan to cut taxes, including reversing the National Insurance rise (most benefiting higher earners), and reduce benefits (punishing part-time workers on low incomes).

The shift is a recent one: the proportion of Brits who want the government to “increase taxes and spend more” has been overtaking those who want it to “keep taxes and spending at the same level as now” since 2016. A majority of Brits have chosen the former since 2017.

The proportion who want to reduce taxes and decrease public spending has remained stubbornly low since records began, while the other two stances tend to swing in relation to the government of the day. While the Conservative government of the Nineties worked to curb spending, the public wanted to increase it; during Labour’s time in power in the 2000s the public swung the other way.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

[Follow our mini-Budget 2022 Live Blog]

Content from our partners
The cost-of-living crisis is hitting small businesses – Liz Truss must act
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs

The public majority in the latest survey for raising taxation and spending, despite the huge amount of government expenditure during the pandemic, may well show a significant shift in priorities in the face of the cost-of-living crisis. Even 46 per cent of Conservative supporters said the government should increase taxes and spending, as did 61 per cent of Labour supporters.


The proportion of Brits who said the government should redistribute income from the better-off to those who are less well-off was at its highest level since 1994, at almost half (49 per cent). This sentiment has risen fast, up ten percentage points since pre-pandemic 2019. Only around a quarter of those surveyed (27 per cent) disagreed.

The Prime Minister, however, is explicitly turning away from the redistribution of wealth. In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on 4 September, she said that she believed it was wrong “to look at everything through the lens of redistribution”.


General recognition of inequality is also rising. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of the British public agreed that ordinary working people did not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth, also up ten percentage points since 2019. The last time this sentiment reached such a high level was 1991.


Sixty-six per cent of respondents also agreed that there was “one law for the rich and one for the poor”, a sentiment that spiked during the pandemic. In particular, the number of Brits who strongly agreed with the statement rose by ten percentage points between autumn 2019 and autumn 2020. There were reports at this time of "cronyism" in the awarding of government Covid-19 contracts, and it was a few months after Dominic Cummings's lockdown trip to Barnard Castle.

Those saying they strongly agreed jumped a further four percentage points in the year to autumn 2021, a few weeks before the first reports of the “partygate” scandal – in which Boris Johnson and others in Downing Street were revealed to have broken lockdown rules – emerged.


Among some politicians there is a theory that large-scale government intervention and spending during the pandemic has heightened the taste for it among the general public. Its impact, and the cost-of-living crisis that followed, is also exposing the inequality in British society.

Truss and her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, are attempting to signal a move in the opposite direction (though their enormous energy bill bailout is, in reality, a continuation of the interventionist pandemic era). Their signals, such as lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses and rescuing rich companies from planned tax rises, however, could turn off a public less and less inclined to accept trickle-down economics.

[See also: Why Britain is vulnerable to high interest rates]

Topics in this article: , ,