Scots support tax hikes to improve the NHS

The Herald, by Alistair Grant 


More than half of Scots would be willing to pay more tax to improve the nation’s health, a new poll suggests.

While 56 per cent said they would support tax hikes to boost the health of Scotland as a whole, 58 per cent said they would back such a move if it was ring-fenced to help the poorest.

The findings, which are published by the Scottish Centre for Social Research, also found half of Scots think poorer health is the result of an unjust society.

It comes amid widespread concerns over the performance of Scotland’s NHS, with fears over nursing vacancies, cancelled operations and delayed discharges – as well as the repeated failure to meet A&E waiting times targets.

Susan Reid, research director at ScotCen, said Scotland’s health inequalities are among the highest in Western Europe.

She said: “This means that many individuals are prevented from enjoying a high standard of physical and mental health.

“Today’s findings illustrate that the vast majority of Scots believe that poverty is related to having poorer health and overwhelmingly perceive the income gap as too large.

“Although there are marked differences in attitudes between different social groups when it comes to views on potential causes of these inequalities, we also observe common ground and shared goals; most Scots would like government to focus on improving the status quo and there is considerable support for increasing taxes as part of that.”

ScotCen’s new report, entitled Scottish Social Attitudes – Public Attitudes to Inequality, was commissioned by NHS Health Scotland in 2016 and found seven in ten Scots believe those with more money are better able to live healthy lives.

Despite widespread support for the idea that injustice in society is a factor in poor health, six in ten Scots thought individuals are ultimately more responsible than the government.

But half would like politicians and civil servants to do more to reduce differences in health between those on high incomes and those earning less.

Women were more likely than men to point the finger at societal injustice, while those on the left of the political spectrum were more than six times as likely to do so compared with those on the right.

Only one in five of the 1,237 Scots surveyed were unwilling to pay higher taxes to boost health. Even fewer would be against tax hikes specifically aimed at improving the health of Scotland’s poorest.

Again, those on the left of the political spectrum were almost twice as likely as those on the right to support tax rises.

The majority of people in Scotland, 72 per cent, agreed the gap between those with high and low incomes is too large.

Scottish Labour’s inequality spokeswoman Elaine Smith said it was “clear that the best long term plan for improving Scotland’s health is re-balancing Scotland’s wealth”.

She said: “This report shows that the majority of people in Scotland accept that health inequalities in our society are driven by wealth inequalities.

“The top 1 per cent in Scotland own almost as much wealth as the bottom 50 per cent put together. That is unacceptable and unsustainable. Scotland can only be a healthier country if it is a fairer country.”

Public health minister Aileen Campbell said tackling inequality was “crucial to improving the health of many people in Scotland, and continues to be central to the government’s policies”.

She said: “Later this week we will be jointly launching, with COSLA, Scotland’s public health priorities, setting out our ambition for Scotland’s public, third sector and private organisations, working with communities, to tackle inequality and Scotland’s key public health challenges.

“We will follow this with strategies and action plans for specific areas, such as diet, physical activity and substance misuse.”

The ScotCen study ran between July and December 2016 and consisted of face-to face interviews with 1,237 adults above the age of 16.