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Sat, 15 August 2020

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Higher taxes, more pay for nurses and a bigger state – our exclusive poll reveals how MPs see the post-Covid society

Higher taxes, more pay for nurses and a bigger state – our exclusive poll reveals how MPs see the post-Covid society

Almost three-quarters of MPs believe the Chancellor Rishi Sunak will have to increase taxes following the pandemic, according to our survey

7 min read

Tax hikes, more pay for key workers, higher unemployment and a larger state – MPs have painted a picture of society after the pandemic

An exclusive survey by The House suggests that nearly three-quarters of MPs believe taxes will increase to fund public services in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

We quizzed MPs about the future of society and the economy following the pandemic, as well as their views on the handling of the crisis and on the future of the ‘virtual’ Parliament. Our survey questioned 75 MPs, across all major parties. The results have been weighted to reflect the party political make-up of the House of Commons. 

The survey found that: 

  • Almost two-thirds of MPs believe pay for NHS and care workers should be higher, while 56% say the pay packets of key workers such as bus drivers should also increase
  • 72% of MPs agree that “taxes will increase to fund public services", while 83% agree that “the state will play a greater role in the economy” 
  • 73% agree that “tough spending choices will have to be made" – but just four in ten would back cuts to public services to rein in spending 
  • 90% believe that unemployment will be higher
  • 65% agree that "people will be kinder to each other" after the pandemic – but just 10% say politics will "be less partisan" 
  • Just 8% believe the public will have more trust in politicians

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned of a “significant recession”, after the economy shrank by 2% in the first three months of the year. Some of his Conservative colleagues have warned against increasing taxes to pay off the debt accumulated from tackling the virus, with the Treasury having shelled out hundreds of billions of pounds to support the economy. A number of Tory backbenchers have stated their preference for Sunak to pursue economic growth and pay off the obligations over time. 

But our poll suggests a significant majority of MPs accept tax rises will be needed, with almost three quarters agreeing that "taxes will increase to fund public services". While 73% agree that “tough spending choices will have to be made”, any move to freeze public sector pay appears to be opposed by the majority of MPs. Some 64% agree that "pay should be higher for NHS staff and care workers", while a majority also back pay rises for key workers such as "bus and delivery drivers, cleaners and refuse workers". 

When it comes to spending cuts MPs are split. Just over four in ten (42%) of those surveyed agreed with the statement that "public services will have to face cuts to reduce spending", while 39% disagreed. 

Nearly seven in ten MPs agree with the statement that “people will be kinder to each other” after the pandemic. But the survey suggests those hoping that the experience of the crisis will lead to “kinder, gentler politics” may be left disappointed – just 10% agreed with the statement that “politics will be less partisan”, while only 8% agreed with the statement “the public will have more trust in politicians”.  

Whatever happens, MPs believe things will be different. Just 29% of those surveyed agreed with the statement “society and life will return to much as they were before the crisis”.  

BREXIT EXTENSION

Elsewhere in the survey, a small majority of MPs said they would support the UK requesting or agreeing to an extension to the Brexit transition period. 

Negotiations hit a roadblock last week, as the two sides failed to make progress on issues relating to fishing and state aid. “I regret… that we made very little progress on the outstanding issues between us,” said David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator. “We’re not going to bargain away our values for the benefit of the British economy,” Michel Barnier, Frost’s EU equivalent, declared.

Labour has so far refused to call for an extension to the transition period, which is currently planned to complete at the end of the year. Progress would need to be made by the summer for a deal on the future relationship to be in place on time. “The Government says it’s going to get negotiations and a deal done by the end of the year,” said Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader. “I’ve always thought that’s tight and pretty unlikely, but we’re going to hold them to that and see how they get on. They said they’re going to do it.”

But 51% of MPs surveyed said they would back an extension, with 49% opposed. 

CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE

A feature of the debate so far has centred on the UK’s preparedness for a pandemic. Of the MPs surveyed, 54% believed the Government was not well prepared to deal with the crisis. 

There was almost unanimous support among MPs for a public inquiry into the UK’s preparedness and handling of the crisis – but only once it has safely passed. While some 94% agree an inquiry at some point will be necessary, just one in ten believe there should be an inquiry in “the coming weeks”.

The survey also asked MPs to rate the performance of various individuals and organisations during the pandemic. Of those surveyed:

  • 87% believed Donald Trump has not performed well, with 70% believing he had performed “very badly”. In contrast, 58% believe Angela Merkel has performed well, with only 16% saying she has performed poorly 
  • MPs are split on the performance of Boris Johnson, with 48% of MPs surveyed believing the prime minister has performed well and 49% saying he has performed poorly  
  • Asked about the performance of health secretary Matt Hancock, 49% say he has performed well, while 34% said he has performed poorly
  • The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, fares better, with 60% of MPs surveyed saying he has performed well, and 25% saying he has performed poorly.
  • Nine in ten MPs believed that the NHS had performed well, with 49% believing it had performed “very well”  
  • The police, too, are given a favourable rating. Some 60% believe forces have performed well, with only 7% saying they had performed poorly
  • The performance of the media has not impressed, with some 63% of MPs surveyed saying the British media had performed poorly, and only 10% saying the media had performed well

VIRTUAL PARLIAMENT 

A number of MPs have pushed back against plans to end so-called ‘hybrid’ sittings when Parliament rises at the end of next week, with full sittings, in person, due to resume from early June. But our survey reveals little appetite for continuing with remote, virtual participation beyond the current circumstances. Just over one in five (23%) believe MPs should permanently retain the ability to ask questions and take part in debates remotely via video link.

When it comes to voting remotely via the temporary online system, the MPs surveyed are also opposed to any permanent change. Just 11% said all MPs should retain the right to vote remotely under any circumstances.

However support was higher for remote or proxy voting for MPs unable to attend due to ill health. Over half those surveyed – 55% – agree that “those who are unable to attend Parliament for health reasons should be able to vote remotely or via proxy”.

Some MPs representing constituencies in more remote parts of the country have called for the ability to vote online. The SNP MP Angus MacNeil, who represents Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the constituency that covers the Outer Hebrides, has said that remote voting “would stop a huge amount of unnecessary journeys by MPs”. However, asked whether MPs representing constituencies more than four hours’ travel time from Westminster should be able to vote remotely, just 19% of our MPs agreed. Some 35% said MPs on overseas trips should also be afforded this opportunity. 

 

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