The majority of people in Britain don’t think UK’s sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine go far enough and most would support doing more even if it meant an increase in the cost of living.
In an exclusive poll conducted by YouGov for Sky News, 57% of adults said they didn’t think current sanctions go far enough. Eighty percent said they would support a ban on the imports of Russian oil and gas.
However, when asked how they would feel if stronger sanctions meant higher costs to them fewer people supported tougher action.
While in most cases a majority of people were still willing to shoulder extra costs, the exception was with energy bills where just 47% said they’d still support harder sanctions. This is, however, still a high proportion given energy bills are already set to rise by a record amount.
There is a strong sense that while people want to see increased pressure on Russia, they do think the government should be moving to mitigate the impact on people here. In fact nearly three quarters of those polled said they supported a deferral of the proposed increase to National Insurance tax, due to come into force in April.
The Chancellor may find he is under increasing pressure to ease the rising costs, exacerbated by the war, in his spring statement next week.
Over half support tougher sanctions even if it meant higher food costs or gas shortages
The survey found a majority of people across almost all regions, political leanings and age groups believe the government’s sanctions don’t go far enough. Only 3% said existing sanctions go too far.
Thus far the British government has imposed asset freezes and travel bans on a number of wealthy individuals as well as sanctioning certain Russian banks, limiting the ability of Russian companies to raise finance on the UK markets. The government has also banned Russian carrier Aeroflot from landing in the UK.
But although it has announced it will phase out imports of Russian oil by the end of this year, it has stopped short of imposing a ban on the purchase of Russian gas.
The polling shows that while the vast majority of people (80%) say they support this tougher measure, that figure drops when weighed against the prospect of rising domestic costs.
However, 55% of people said they’d still support tougher sanctions even if it meant higher food costs or a rising cost of living, while 54% said they’d still support it even if it led to oil and gas shortages.
Fewer were comfortable with shouldering significant increases to energy bills as a result – only 14% strongly supported tougher measures if it meant higher energy costs, with 33% ‘tending’ to support it.
This is perhaps understandable given the cost of energy is already skyrocketing, with bills set to rise by an average of 54% on 1st April and possibly even higher later in the year. It is also the cost where consumers have the least choice or alternative to find cheaper options.
Two-thirds support the rise of National Insurance tax being deferred
There was also strong support across regions and demographics for increased government support to help households shoulder cost rises prompted by stronger sanctions.
Seven out of ten people support the introduction of household grants to offset rising energy bills. Six out of ten support an increase in welfare benefits, with a similar figure (65%) supporting a cut in income tax.
But the strongest feelings were reserved for the proposed hike in National Insurance tax, set to rise by 1.25 percentage points for employees in April.
The manifesto-breaking tax rise is designed to help ease the increasing pressure on the NHS and social care but spells the highest tax burden since the 1950s.
Almost three quarters of people supported this tax rise being deferred to help cushion the blow of stronger sanctions and, notably for the Chancellor, that figure rises to 77% amongst Conservative voters.
There is also a generational disparity in the survey with younger people less willing to support stronger action and less willing to shoulder increased costs.
For example, while only one in five of 18-24 year olds would be happy to see increased energy bills as a result of higher sanctions. That rose to among three in five of the over 65s – the highest of any regional or demographic group.
The chancellor Rishi Sunak will present his spring budget on March 23rd and is coming under increasing pressure to address the severe cost of living squeeze being felt by households.
Balancing this with the clear public appetite to be harder on Russia will be tricky.
YouGov survey of 1,712 adults in GB carried out online between 10th and 11th March 2022. Figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). The full survey results can be accessed here.