Most Britons think the government has done a bad job with the economy since it was elected in May last year but few think opposition Labour's Ed Miliband and Ed Balls would do better, according to a Reuters/Ipsos MORI poll on Thursday.

The poll found 55 percent of respondents think David Cameron's coalition government has done a bad job of managing the economy while 36 percent feel it has done well.

Over three-quarters, 77 percent, said the government had done badly in keeping unemployment down and just 15 percent said it had done a good job. Britain's unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent in the three months to August, its highest level in 15 years.

Six in 10 respondents disapproved of the government's performance on taxation and public expenditure while half, or 51 percent, said the government ha done poorly in protecting British interests in the global recession.

The findings compare unfavourably with Tony Blair's first year in office after his 1997 election when most people felt his government was doing a good job on managing the economy and keeping unemployment down. Blair, however, enjoyed far more benign economic conditions.

But while the government scored badly, just 20 percent think that a Labour government with current leader Miliband as prime minister and Balls as Chancellor would do a better job of managing the economy.

Economic optimism has fallen to its lowest point since December 2008. Just 16 percent believe the economic condition of the country will improve in the next 12 months, while 57 percent think it will get worse, giving an Economic Optimism Index score of minus 41.

The last time the Economic Optimism Index was lower was in December 2009 when it was minus 48.

The poll also showed the public are now more worried about the impact the economic downturn is having on their lives than they were in February 2009.

-- Thirty-four percent worry about their ability to retire as planned, up from 21 percent in 2009.

-- Thirty-five percent worry about their children's job prospects compared to 26 percent two years ago.

-- Almost two in five, or 37 percent, worry about their ability to pay the bills.

-- Thirty-seven percent worry about their ability to buy the things they are used to buying.

Satisfaction with all three party leaders is largely unchanged this month compared to September although satisfaction with Miliband has increased slightly from last month's worst-ever position.

Cameron remains the leader with the highest level of public satisfaction, at 40 percent, against Miliband's 34 percent and the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg on 30 percent.

Voting intentions in October are Conservatives 34 percent, Labour 38 percent and Liberal Democrats 12 percent among those who are certain to vote.

This is in line with voting intentions in September, suggesting none of the parties enjoyed a boost as a result of September's Conference season.

It is clear that the economy is the number one issue among the British public -- and concern about its impact on daily lives is increasing, said Ipsos Mori's Head of Political Research, Gideon Skinner.

At the same time half think the situation would be exactly the same under a Labour government led by Ed Miliband.

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,002 adults aged 18+ across Britain for the October Reuters/Ipsos MORI Political Monitor. Interviews were conducted by telephone between October 22 to 24. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

(Stephen Addison, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)