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EDITIONS
 Monday, 15 April, 2002, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Does the public back tax rises?
The public want better public services but are they willing to pay the tax?

All the gossip and leaks suggest that the 2002 Budget will raise taxes in order to fund the NHS and other public services.

If so, it will mark a significant change in British politics - the first time in a decade when consenting adults are able to talk about tax increases without being struck down by a thunderbolt.

It is not the greatest discovery in the world to find that there is little enthusiasm for paying taxes

At the heart of this decade-long silence about tax increases was the experience of the 1992 general election.

Opinion poll after opinion poll prior to that election supported Labour's policy of increased taxes to improve public services - but nevertheless the party crashed in flames after a Conservative campaign warning of "Labour's Tax Bombshell".

Backing for NHS?

So, are we voters to be trusted when we answer polls on increased taxation?

The test could well be willingness to pay increased taxes for the NHS which regularly tops the league table of public services respondents believe should have extra funding.

An ICM/News of the World poll in March 2002 found overwhelming support for the present system of financing health care through taxation and national insurance.

Unpopular VAT

The alternatives of private insurance as in the USA, or a system of charging people were both heavily rejected.

When asked to choose between various methods of raising taxes to fund NHS improvements, the most popular was a brand new tax which would be ring fenced exclusively for the NHS.

The least popular method was raising money through an increase in VAT.

However, 92% of respondents in this poll said it was "very/quite important" to them that extra investment in the NHS is matched by reform in the way it is run.

Another ICM/News of the World poll in November 2001 tried to establish how much individuals would be willing to pay.

Conflicting messages

They found 54% who said they would pay extra income tax to fund NHS improvements and they simply asked them: "how much?".

Polls during the last election campaign showed an electorate resigned to tax increases whichever party won.

Some 50% said they would be willing to pay between 1-5 extra each month, 30% said between 5-20 per month and 9% said over 20.

It is not the greatest discovery in the world to find that there is little enthusiasm for paying taxes.

Nor that the polls seem to send conflicting messages: some respondents are perhaps very enthusiastic about increased taxes on the assumption that these will be paid by some "other" people and not themselves.

Polls during the last election campaign showed an electorate resigned to tax increases whichever party won.

However, the new element in the debate appears to be that we are demanding measurably better outcomes in return - not only for the taxes we ordinarily pay, but especially for any increased taxation.


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