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It's Time that We Valued People Over Profits, Poll Results Show

by Andrew Grice

The British public want business to put "people before profits" and to see politicians close the gap between rich and poor, according to a new survey.

The findings suggest growing support for "responsible capitalism" in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and bankers' excessive bonuses – and public sympathy with the anti-globalization protests such as the Occupy London camp outside St Paul'sCathedral.

YouGov, which polled 1,723 people for the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society and the TUC, found that 80 per cent believe the private sector should forgo some profits to meet a wider responsibility to their employees, customers and communities and invest more for the long-term. Only 12 per cent think that maximizing profits for shareholders is a company's top priority.

Seven out of 10 people believe the gap between those at the top and everyone else is too wide and bad for ordinary people, while 20 per cent think we should not worry about the gap too much or reduce rewards for successful people.

The figures suggest politicians have been right to try to appeal to a changing public mood in recent months. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, sparked a debate over capitalism in September by saying the Government should punish "predators" and reward "producers."

However, YouGov found that people remain wary about too much state intervention. Some 44 per cent believe that past government intervention has usually ended in tears and that the state should keep out of the way.

About one in three people (31 per cent) thinks the economy would benefit if the Government intervened more.

The poll uncovered markedly different attitudes among supporters of the two Coalition parties. Liberal Democrat voters are significantly more progressive than the average person –and on some issues are more progressive than Labour voters.

Conservative supporters are almost evenly split on whether the rich-poor gap is bad for ordinary people, while 78 per cent of Lib Dem voters believe it is bad and only 14 per cent do not.

The Coalition parties' supporters are also divided over workplace rights. Almost half of Tory voters say employee rights lead to fewer jobs and a weaker economy but only 19 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters agree. While 46 per cent of Tory supporters think businesses would be more successful if they involved their workforce, that view is held by 74 per cent of Lib Dem voters.

According to YouGov, Britons are pessimistic about the economic outlook. Only 18 per cent expect people to be better off in 10 years' time and only 11 per cent believe future generations will have better living standards than today.

Andrew Harrop, the Fabian Society's general secretary, said: "The Westminster village is misjudging the British public's views on economic issues.

"Our polling shows overwhelming support for what are regarded as left-leaning views among not only Liberal Democrat and Labour supporters but also from millions of Conservative voters. On economics, the Conservative leadership is totally out of touch with the mainstream."

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