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New Centre for Policy Studies report shows widespread public misunderstanding of economic issues faced by Britain

By Matthew Barrett
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CPSA poll conducted by ComRes for the Centre for Policy Studies has found that widespread ignorance of our economic situation exists amongst the public.

The poll found that:

  • 47% of British adults think the Coalition is planning to reduce the national debt by around £600 billion between 2010 and the end of this Parliament in 2015
  • 12% said the Coalition was planning neither to reduce nor increase the national debt
  • 32% said they did not know
  • But only 10% were right in saying that the Coalition Government is planning to increase the national debt by around £600 billion by the end of this Parliament

The results come as part of an analysis of the public's understanding of the Coalition’s economic policies, "A Distorted Debate: the need for clarity on Debt, Deficit and Coalition Aims", written by Ryan Bourne and Tim Knox, which is published today.

The report contrasts the aim of the Coalition - to eliminate the current structural deficit by the end of this Parliament and stem the increase in public debt as a proportion of GDP - with the reality: the cyclically-adjusted current deficit had only fallen by 13% by the end of 2011/12, and the great majority of the reduction in the deficit has come from cuts to investment spending and tax increases, not from current spending cuts. The report's authors also show that only 6% of the planned current spending contraction has so far been implemented.

The report is critical of politicians, leading journalists and broadcasters who have repeatedly confused the terms "debt" and "deficit" when reporting on the Coalition's policies, thus misleading the public. The public is also confused over what the Coalition has achieved so far. Only 39% correctly identify that the budget deficit has been reduced since 2010, compared with 28% who believe this to be untrue.

The report explains the dangers of the widespread public inability to understand the true nature of Britain's economic problems: firstly, that the Coalition parties will be vulnerable at the next general election when opposition parties could argue that the huge increase in debt is primarily the result of economic incompetence and, secondly, that ignorance of the scale of our problems makes it difficult to win public support for the policies which are necessary to deal with the crisis.

BourneRyan2Ryan Bourne, the Head of Economic Research at the CPS, and co-author of the report comments:

“The polling results show two things: that the public is unclear about what the Coalition’s ambitions are, and is unclear about what the Coalition has achieved in terms of the public finances since 2010. Despite what many people think, it was never the Coalition’s ambition to reduce the national debt within this Parliament. What’s more, it’s becoming increasingly probable that, on current policy, neither of the Coalition’s original fiscal mandates are going to met. With the recent dreadful borrowing figures, now would be a good time for the Coalition to restate the scale of our fiscal problems, and to set out how they will be addressed. Only by having a clear knowledge of the problems and solutions on offer from the different parties will the electorate be able to make an informed choice in 2015.”


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