Tax the rich, says public opinion

The real “silent majority”:

Public wants fairer tax and bonus system says new poll

Eighty percent of the public agree that bonuses should ‘reward long-term success rather than short-term performance’, in a new poll for the Fabian Society as part of a research project exploring public attitudes to inequality.

And 70% thought that ordinary employees should be represented on the compensation committees which decide how much city executives get paid, the poll by YouGov found.

While 56% were even in favour of a more radical proposal, to make executives of failed companies ‘pay back their bonuses from the last two years’. The government appears to have captured this popular mood by introducing a new higher top rate of tax of 45% for people earning over £150,000 – a move supported by 76% of the public (including strong support from almost half, at 46%). There is some evidence that the government could have gone further, with almost seven in ten respondents (69%) expressing support for a new top rate of 50% for people earning over £250,000. Poll data also gives some clues as to people’s reasons for thinking the rich should contribute more, with 70% of respondents agreeing that ‘Those at the top are failing to pay their fair share towards investment in public services’.

Only 19% of respondents agreed that taxes on high earners should be kept low so that ‘British companies can attract the talent they need to succeed’.

The public were asked who they felt deserved the salaries they currently received:

* 87% of respondents thought that City bankers were overpaid, second only to premier league footballers at 96%.

Bankers were seen as more overpaid than lawyers, MPs and estate agents: 77% think that lawyers were overpaid; 71% thought that MPs were overpaid, and 55% thought that estate agents are overpaid.

At the other end of the income spectrum, office cleaners and nurses were seen as most under-paid (72% and 77% respectively).

Social workers and doctors are in the middle of the league table. More people saw social workers as underpaid (38%), than overpaid (17%), while 34% thought they were ‘paid about right’. By contrast, more people thought doctors were overpaid (34%) than underpaid (13%), but the most common view was that they are ‘paid about right’ (47%).

These findings are part of an eight month research project exploring public attitudes to inequality and related policy responses, and are based on initial analysis of research conducted by the Fabian Society, consisting of an opinion poll of 2,044 people conducted by YouGov from 28 November to 1 December 2008 and qualitative research.

The research is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and is part of the JRF’s Public Interest in Poverty Issues programme.

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