It has long been said that the 1992 General Election campaign was won because the Conservative Party convinced the public that Labour would raise their taxes. The notion that voters punish parties who raise taxes is not new. And while it has been challenged since, that ‘bombshell’ campaign still resonates a quarter of a century on.
A YouGov poll of 6,000 voters, commissioned by 38 Degrees members and released on Friday, shows the public are willing to accept a tax rise - when it’s linked to more funding for our NHS.
When Theresa May announced an extra £20billion in funding for our NHS this summer, she didn’t tell us where the money was coming from. She did, though, seem to kick off a more honest and open conversation on tax, saying it would mean all of us paying a little more. That transparency is long overdue and it is craved by the public. We asked how voters would view their local MP differently based on their stance on a tax rise for the NHS. The most unpopular position an MP could take was not to push for a tax rise, but to refuse to say publicly where they thought the money should come from.
Immediately after May’s announcement, 38 Degrees members decided to focus our efforts on proposing a solution for how Philip Hammond could raise the money. We landed on an extra penny on income tax. We’ve crowdfunded research, pledged to pay more tax ourselves, emailed our MPs and chipped in to spread the word in an advertising campaign. Because while it’s one option of many, a small rise in income tax is a sustainable and fair way to get the NHS the cash it needs. And it lives up to the principles of the health service - we all pay for it, we all own it, and we all benefit from it.
So a small income tax rise would deliver for the NHS - but, in a twist on the notion of a tax bombshell, it could pay off at the ballot box too.
More than two-thirds of Conservative voters would have a more favourable or unchanged opinion of the Conservative Party if they introduced a penny on income tax to fund the NHS. And this crosses party lines. Six in ten Labour voters said they’d expect the Labour Party to support the government if they were to raise income tax for the NHS in next month’s Budget. Only one in five said the party should oppose the move.
And in key battleground seats that will decide the next election, almost two thirds of Conservative voters support a tax rise for the health service. We held focus groups in the most marginal constituencies across the country and what we heard supported these numbers while adding some helpful context too. Voters are up for paying more tax when it’s linked to the NHS, and when they know the money won’t be wasted. When they’re shown the figures on how much it would cost them personally each month, it doesn’t seem to deter their support. In fact, in many cases it’s boosted it.
So, where does this leave us as an early Budget date has now been set for 29 October?
When linked to the NHS, a small fair tax rise can be popular. Theresa May promised an honest conversation about tax - the Chancellor should feel confident enough to make good on it in October.
Trish Murray is NHS Campaigns Manager at 38 Degrees, an independent campaign organisation