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‘Generational divide’: UK split by age over tax rises for public services

‘Generational divide’: UK split by age over tax rises for public services

Younger adults are far less keen than older people on raising taxes to fund public services and want volunteers to help ease the growing crisis in social care, a survey shows. It reveals a stark generational divide over whether to increase taxation, with under-45s much less supportive than those aged over 45. The results suggest…

Younger adults are far less keen than older people on raising taxes to fund public services and want volunteers to help ease the growing crisis in social care, a survey shows.

It reveals a stark generational divide over whether to increase taxation, with under-45s much less supportive than those aged over 45.

The results suggest that public support for tax rises to fund the NHS, and the health service receiving a growing share of public spending, may be eroded in the coming years.

While overall 41% of the public believe taxes should go up to fund public services such as the NHS, just 33% of 18 to 24-year-olds and even fewer – 30% – of those aged between 25 and 44 agreed.

In contrast, backing is strongest among those aged 45-54 (42%), 55-64 (46%) and over 65 (54%).

Older age groups are also least likely to agree that “we should cut taxes and reduce spending on public services”. Only 8% of over-65s agree, whereas 21% of 25 to 34-year-olds think that should happen.

The split between older and younger adults emerged in a survey of public attitudes by Populus. It carried out online polling of 2,096 UK adults for the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

“The NHS can’t afford to keep mitigating our failure to invest in what leads to good health: a welfare system that promotes economic security; investment in early years, education and skills; and better quality jobs for all,” said Ed Cox, the RSA’s director of public services and communities.

Younger people have very different priorities than older age groups, Cox stressed. “Aside from a shared commitment to tackling inequality there is neither a clear consensus on tax increases nor agreement on how any extra money is spent.

“The younger generations who’ll pay for increased spending see climate change and technological adaptation as greater challenges than the ageing society,” he added.

Social care illustrates the chasm of opinion between the age groups. While 54% of over-65s see increasing taxation as the best solution, fewer than one in four of those aged 18 to 44 agree.

A third of 18 to 24-year-olds think that much greater use should be made of volunteers, while just 14% of those of pensionable age concur.

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, stressed that while volunteers play a hugely important role, “they cannot and should not be asked to replace the vital work of trained care workers” and could not plug the gaps in the social care workforce.

“Social care, just like the NHS, is an essential public service providing highly skilled support to people who are often living with complex needs or coming to the end of their life.

“It needs sustainable funding, a well-trained and committed workforce and the capacity to work closely with health, housing and other vital services. As the majority of people in this survey recognise, putting funding on a sustainable footing is a vital first step.”

Asked which policy areas the government should focus on over the next decade to make the UK a better country, those aged 45 and over identified inequality, the ageing society and social isolation and mental health.

However, again under-45s offered a different set of priorities. While isolation did feature in their top three priorities, climate change was the biggest (48%) area of interest for 18 to 24-year-olds and also mentioned by those aged 25 to 44. For those under 45 international relations and Brexit were also key issues.

Cox added that the findings showed that “traditional left-right politics is being flipped on its head, as under-45s back lower taxes and a smaller state, despite overwhelmingly voting Labour in the last election, while Conservative-leaning voters over 65 back higher taxes and spending”.

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