Conservative voters are the strongest supporters of replacing the “broken” fuel duty regime with a new system of road-pricing, think-tank research reveals today.
The Social Market Foundation released new analysis of voter attitudes on road taxes and charges in the wake of Rishi Sunak’s decision to cut fuel duty by 5p.
The SMF said that the cut – which will cost the Treasury £2.4bn – is more proof that the fuel duty system is “not fit for purpose in the 21st Century”.
Fuel duty must be replaced with a new system of road-pricing to prevent an “unsustainable” loss of tax revenues that will deprive the Government of the funds it needs to maintain the road network, the SMF said.
SMF polling shows that 44% of Conservative voters are positive about a shift towards road pricing, while just 25% are opposed.
Labour voters recorded 39% support and 24% opposition. For the public as a whole, the figures were 38% and 26%.
Fuel duty has previously raised around £30bn a year for the Treasury, but that revenue is facing long-term decline from the historic shift towards electric vehicles which do not incur the duty.
Senior figures in Government are known to privately concede that a move towards road pricing is inevitable, but some still worry about the potential for public opposition.
But analysis of SMF/Opinium polling data shows that several key voter groups are more open to the switch than might be expected.
When voters are analysed by employment status, people working full-time and the retired are the strongest supporters of using road pricing to fill the gap in the public finances: 41% and 42% are favourable, respectively. And drivers are more positive about the change than non-drivers, by 40% to 30%.
The SMF also argues that a shift to road pricing would allow government to respond more efficiently and swiftly to future cost of living crises. While Rishi Sunak’s fuel duty cut will benefit higher income households the most, in cash terms, forthcoming SMF research will show how a road pricing system could offer targeted relief to lower income motorists and those living in car-dependent parts of the country such as rural areas.
Scott Corfe, SMF research director said:
“The latest change in fuel duty rates will cost billions of pounds and is just more proof that fuel duty is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Until politicians show some long-term leadership, Britain will be stuck with an outdated and unfair system of road tax that will see the Treasury coffers losing billions and billions of pounds that is needed for roads and public services.
“Our research shows that voters understand that fuel duty is unsustainable and must be replaced with a new system of road pricing that is fairer to motorists and taxpayers alike. Properly designed, a road-pricing system could offer more support to lower-income motorists and rural drivers than the unfair and regressive fuel duty regime.
“We know that senior politicians privately recognise that road pricing is sensible and inevitable. The time is coming for them to have the courage and honesty to bring the public into that conversation.”
- Sub-group responses are drawn from SMF polling set out the SMF briefing, Road to ruin? Public attitudes towards road pricing as an alternative to the current fuel duty regime, which is published here: https://www.smf.co.uk/publications/road-to-ruin/
- The SMF is working on an ongoing road pricing project sponsored by European Climate Foundation. The next report from the project will be published later in the spring.