Scottish public opinion diverges from rest of UK on taxation, crime and policing

Scottish public opinion diverges from rest of UK on taxation, crime and policing

Tackling climate change should be a top priority for the UK government after addressing the cost-of-living crisis and NHS waiting lists, according to a new survey of nearly 6,000 adults in the UK.

The findings come from The State of the State 2022-23, an annual report on attitudes to government and public services from Deloitte and the think tank Reform. The research includes a survey by Ipsos UK of 5,813 UK adults aged 16-75 between 2nd and 20th September 2022.

When asked which issues should be priorities for the UK over the next few years, most respondents said the focus should be on tackling the immediate crises of cost-of-living (81 per cent) and NHS waiting lists (66 per cent), above anything else.

The public’s next-biggest priority is climate change, mentioned by 46 per cent of respondents. Improving crime and policing (44 per cent), social care for older and vulnerable people (44 per cent) and the availability of affordable housing (40 per cent) came close behind as key priorities for the UK public.

In line with the rest of the UK, the Scottish public wants the government to prioritise tackling the cost-of-living crisis (84 per cent), NHS waiting lists (76 per cent) and climate change (47 per cent). These top priorities for Scots are followed by social care for older people, vulnerable adults and children (43 per cent) and the availability of affordable housing (40 per cent).

The research did, however, find some significant differences in priorities between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Respondents in Scotland were the least concerned about crime and policing (36 per cent), compared to Wales (39 per cent), Northern Ireland (40 per cent) and England (46 per cent).

While all four nations share the same broad split of opinion on tax and spending, Scotland stands out as the only nation to favour higher spending over tax cuts: 35 per cent of Scots want to see higher taxes to fund higher public spending, compared to a UK average of 29 per cent.

When asked about their expectations over the next few years, nearly three-quarters of UK respondents (74 per cent) expect the cost-of-living crisis will get worse, while 58 per cent think NHS waiting lists will worsen. Levels of optimism for the future are as limited in Scotland as in the rest of the UK, with the majority believing that key elements of public life are unlikely to improve. Three-quarters (75 per cent) of the Scottish public think the cost of living is set to get worse in the next few years.

However, most feel that other elements – such as protection against Covid-19 and other pandemics, defence and national security, and school and early years education – are likely to stay the same or get better rather than get worse, which suggests that the Scottish public sees these areas as resilient. One in five (33 per cent) believe that trading relationships with other countries is set to get better.

Lesley Smillie, a partner in the public sector practice at Deloitte in Scotland, said: “Since 2012 The State of the State has highlighted an ongoing divergence between the politics and policies of the devolved administrations and the UK government. Scotland in particular has stood out, with its distinctive political landscape and public views that differ to the rest of the UK.

“There is, however, consensus with England and Wales that the public sees climate change as a top priority that requires the government’s attention. Clearly, there are immediate domestic challenges that the government must address, including the cost-of-living crisis and NHS waiting lists, but the public also wants policy and decision-makers not to lose sight of embedding sustainability into the core of everything they do. When it comes to tackling climate change, the public mood is clearly for action behind the two immediate challenges of the cost of living and NHS waiting lists.”

Charlotte Pickles, Reform director, said: “During a period when the economy is in crisis and public services are buckling, the public are losing trust in government and public services to do the right thing. At the same time, few think that Britain has the right balance between public spending, tax and borrowing – with slightly more people favouring lower taxes and borrowing than higher levels. With a new PM in place, it is vital that the government acts to rebuild trust and deliver against the public’s priorities.”

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