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Understanding support for the frequent flyer levy

18 December 2022

A generally popular policy proposal – which seems to have fairness hardwired into it – there is nonetheless confusion around who would be affected by a frequent flyer levy, pointing to a need for clearer communication.

Originally promoted by the climate charity Possible, along with the New Economics Foundation, the idea of a frequent flyer levy (i.e. an increasing charge on any flights taken after one levy-free individual flight for everyone per year) embodies the ‘polluter pays’ principle and reflects the highly skewed nature of emissions from aviation (roughly 70% of which are created by 15% of the population). 

In general, it is a popular policy proposal, attracting support at the UK Climate Assembly, with one 2022 study placing it as the most supported climate policy (with support rising since 2021).

Looking at support for the policy broken down by different audience segments, though, reveals a more complex picture and points to the need for clearer communication and messaging around who would actually be impacted by a frequent flyer levy (i.e. the minority who fly more than once a year) – something that is also important for other climate policies where the costs are not yet perceived to fall fairly.

Climate Outreach research found that while the more affluent Established Liberals (who do fly more than average) were willing to pay extra to reflect this, groups like the Disengaged Battlers (with lower incomes) were less likely to support the policy (even though they would be unlikely to be affected by it).  

In Climate Barometer tracker data, we see a consistent level of support among voters – including Conservatives – for the frequent flyer levy. However, there is a further decline in support among Conservative MPs from 2022 into 2023, signalling a major perception gap between public and political opinion on this climate policy. (Explore perceptions gaps in our thread on this topic.)

And in Rishi Sunak’s September 2023 net zero announcements, ‘new taxes on flying’ were one of the (not yet implemented) policies that he ‘scrapped’. Positioned in this way – as a new tax rather than a fairer replacement for air passenger duty – ‘scrapping’ it attracted strong support from Conservative but not Labour voters.

The latest from the Fairness timeline:

Climate Barometer Tracker 26th October 2023

Tracker data: Majority of the public support a tax on frequent flyers

Data from our Climate Barometer tracker shows that more than half of people in the UK support a tax on frequent flyers (52%), while just 18% say they oppose this outright. A substantial number neither support nor oppose this (21%), while a further don’t know (9%), suggesting support could be increased further, if the frequent flyer levy was given more prominence.

Read our Barometer Analysis of how support for the frequent flyer levy changes across different types of audiences: whilst the basic concept is likely to be seen as fair, people who would not be affected by the levy may nonetheless believe they will be, without clarity on how the policy would operate.

Policy Insight 18th October 2023

National Infrastructure Commission recommends low income households should be given free heat pumps

Independent advisers the National Infrastructure Commission has recommended in a new report that low income households are given free heat pumps to aid the transition away from gas boilers.

Polling shows that there is currently some hesitation – especially among Conservative voters – around the phasing out of gas boilers over the next decade, with a belief that net zero policies will be ‘expensive’ becoming widespread.

Policies such as this – were it to be enacted – would reflect calls for a ‘Fairness Lock’ from IPPR, protecting the least able to pay from the costs of  the green transition.

Opinion Insight 27th September 2023

Public First: Sunak’s Net Zero speech may scarcely cut through to voters

In research carried out just before Rishi Sunak’s speech announcing changes to the UK’s net zero targets in September 2023 (including a 4,000 sample, nationally-representative poll and eight focus groups of 2019 Conservative voters who are now undecided), Public First’s James Frayne argues that Sunak’s speech will have a maginally negative impact on overall support for the Conservatives. Read Frayne’s analysis here:

Sunak’s Net Zero speech may scarcely cut through to voters at all outside the bubble

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