Seven out of 10 Britons want the government to soften its spending cuts and do more to stimulate economic growth, according to an opinion poll published on Tuesday that will make uncomfortable reading for the ruling coalition.
The Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat partners have made austerity the cornerstone of economic policy since taking office in 2010, when they warned that over-spending by the previous Labour government was pushing Britain towards a Greek-style sovereign debt crisis.
But the ComRes poll in Tuesday's Independent newspaper suggested voters were losing faith in their strategy, adding to pressure for a change of course a week after the International Monetary Fund said the government should do more to stimulate demand.
With the economy mired in its second recession since the 2008 financial crisis, the poll found that 72 percent of respondents wanted the focus to switch from austerity to growth. Just 17 percent disagreed and 11 percent didn't know.
So far, the coalition has stuck to its core message that Britain can no longer live beyond its means and that the seven-year austerity programme is necessary to maintain the confidence of the bond markets and avert a crippling rise in interest rates.
For the first two years the public seemed to accept the coalition's argument that it was taking the necessary tough decisions to “clean up the mess that Labour left behind”, but Tuesday's poll results suggest patience is now wearing thin.
George Osborne, the finance minister, staked his reputation on the bet that economic growth would help reduce the deficit.
But while Britain's debt servicing costs and interest rate remain at historic lows, the fall-back into recession has cast doubt on whether his gamble will pay off.
Public perception of economic competence has been a key factor in determining the outcome of British elections, and if the Conservatives lose that, they are unlikely to achieve the outright victory they crave in 2015.
ComRes interviewed 1,001 adults from May 25 to May 28.
In a minor concession to easing Britain's fiscal burden announced on the survey's final day, the government said food that is cooling down after being cooked would be exempt from a sales levy on hot takeaways dubbed the 'pasty tax'. - Reuters