Ipsos MORI’s new poll published in The Economist today shows that there is public support for many of the new coalition government’s policies. Many people feel that government and public services have done too much in recent years and that there is a need for individuals to take greater responsibility. However, understanding of ‘big society’ is not yet widespread, and more needs to be done to encourage public involvement in local decisions. The public preference for a minimum standard of service across the country (a real fear of the “postcode lottery”) also presents a potential challenge to greater local control.
Many of the government’s proposals for reducing the deficit are proving popular with the public. Two-thirds support ending tax credits for families earning more than £50,000 per year (68%), and there is support for increasing the use of the voluntary and private sectors to run Government employment and training programmes (55% and 50% respectively). The government’s aims to harness technology better also offer a popular way of improving efficiency; many more people say they are prepared to engage with public services online than have actually done so. However, there is much less support for raising the state pension age (29%) and getting university students to pay more towards their education (26%).
There is support for welfare reform. Most people agree that those who refuse the offer of a job should not be allowed state benefits (60%). A majority also think that 3-6 months is a reasonable time before an unemployed person is given a job search programme (58%), and a significant minority think that up to a month is reasonable (29%).
People generally support smaller government and bigger society, although notions of fairness and providing a safety net are core to the public’s understanding of public services. Most people feel that government and public services have tried to do too much in recent years and that people should take more responsibility for their own lives (64%). However there is also concern that government will do too little to help people in future years (50%). Two-fifths of the public have heard of ‘big society’ (42%), although only three in ten of these say they know at least a fair amount (31%).
Local control is cautiously welcomed, but concerns about variation in services dominate. For example, more people think that standards of service should be the same everywhere for health services (81%) and even relatively straightforward services such as recycling (70%).
There is not yet a clear sense of how to mobilise the individual and community action that are central to the government’s vision of ‘big society’. Most of the public say they do not want to be actively involved in how public services are run – but there are still significant minorities who say they do, which represents millions of people across the country as a whole. Further, it is likely that those who are directly affected will be more likely to get involved; for example, parents are far more likely to want to have more of a say in how Primary Schools work than people without children. There is also very strong backing for a National Citizens’ Service, with around 8 in 10 thinking supporting it, regardless of whether it is voluntary or compulsory.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,002 adults aged 16+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 13th – 19th May 2010. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.