Concerns about climate change and its impact on the future of society are growing among the population. In fact, as a new report from Deloitte and the independent public services think tank, Reform, shows the UK public would be supportive of firmer government interventions to tackle climate change, whilst social care and housing are stronger priorities for public spending. The survey also reveals that the majority want to see more investment in public services – even if that means tax rises.

The data was compiled by Ipsos MORI which surveyed 1,300 adults across the UK, and features in The State of the State 2019-20, Deloitte and Reform’s annual report on government and public services. The report also features feedback from 50 senior public sector figures and from an online crowd conversation with 240 frontline public sector professionals.

Jayson Hadley, head of government and public services consulting at Deloitte, said: “This report is published against a backdrop of fast-moving politics but it casts a spotlight on the long-term domestic issues that matter most to people in the UK. People clearly want to be reassured that public services are getting the investment they need, and the longstanding issues of social care and housing appear to be seen as needing attention.

“It’s also striking that concerns over climate change have increased and the public wants the government to act – but the good news is that the UK is already leading the way on its environmental commitments.”

Climate concerns heat up

Public concerns over the future of the environment have risen sharply in the past year, against a backdrop of stark warnings from the United Nations and widespread climate activism. More than half the public (51%) now fear the environment is set to get worse (up from 37% in 2018).

A majority of the public would be supportive of more ambitious government interventions including:

• 69% think environmentally-friendly options should be cheaper such as public transport;

• 66% think the government should provide more information to people on how to lead a more environmentally-friendly life;

• 65% think the government should do more to ban environmentally unfriendly products, such as lead petrol or non-recyclable items; and,

• 58% support greater taxes on environmentally unfriendly products to make them more expensive.

Shifting priorities

The survey also asked about the balance of tax and spending on public services. It found the public are eager for greater investment with six in ten respondents (58%) believing there should be more government services, even if it means some increases to taxes. This is up from 46% in 2009.

However, there are signs that public priorities are shifting as people move from thinking about protecting public services to consider what should be prioritised in future. The NHS, education and policing remain the public’s top three priorities. However, social care for the elderly (30% of the public placed this in their top three priorities, up from 25% who wanted to protect this from cuts in 2018) and housing (20% placed this in their top three, up from 11% who wanted to protect this from cuts in 2018) are stronger priorities for where the public want to see greater investment.

The survey uncovered views on infrastructure spending. Some 41% of the public believe their local area gets less than its fair share of investment, particularly in Wales and the north of England, at 61% and 56% respectively. This is compared to only 26% in London with 28% believing they get more than their fair share of investment – the highest of all the regions.

Charlotte Pickles, director at Reform, said: “The public are pessimistic that public services will improve in the coming years, and there is rising concern about the crises in social care and housing.

“People want government to act and are prepared to pay more in tax to fund better provision.

“As we head towards an election, Parties need to put forward a positive post-austerity vision for Britain – and one that includes a sustainable solution for social care.”