Ed Miliband has sought to brush off questions about his suitability to lead the country, insisting that he is "more personally competent" than David Cameron to be Prime Minister.
The Labour leader played down the significance of a set of polls which showed Conservatives establishing a lead over his party for the first time since George Osborne's "omnishambles" budget more than two years ago.
Two surveys - an ICM poll for The Guardian and another carried out for Tory peer Lord Ashcroft - gave Mr Cameron's party a two-point lead, a year ahead of the 2015 general election.
The Guardian poll put Labour support at just 31% - its lowest since the immediate aftermath of the disastrous 2010 election - with Mr Miliband's personal ratings falling well behind those of the Prime Minister and Chancellor.
Just days ahead of elections to English councils and the European Parliament on May 22, Mr Miliband insisted he was right to focus on the "cost-of-living crisis" facing British families.
Despite positive economic figures over recent months, ordinary people were "deeply discontented" with the way in which the country is being run, and feel that the benefits from growth have been skewed towards those at the top of society, he said.
Challenged over whether voters saw him as a potential prime minister, Mr Miliband told BBC1's Breakfast: "My approach has been to talk consistently about the big questions our country faces and the biggest question of all that every country is wrestling with - are we going to be run for a few people at the top, with growing gaps between the richest and everybody else, or are ordinary people going to get a fair shot?
"I am going to keep talking consistently about that, because I think that is the biggest question our country faces."
Asked if this approach would make him a better PM than Mr Cameron, the Labour leader said: "It makes me more personally competent because I get what people are feeling and we can do something about it.
"The most important thing as a Prime Minister is to understand what people think and what you can do about it and to show the difference you can make to their lives, and that's what I will do, and solidity of belief and purpose."
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said next week's European and local elections would be a better test than opinion polls of whether Labour's policies "make sense to people".
"Polls will narrow, won't they, as we get towards a general election. That is what always happens," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.
"Labour has a lead in one of the polls this morning.
"The important thing actually though is not what the polls are saying. The important thing is: have Labour got the answers to the problems that people are facing?
"Ed Miliband has spoken about measures to take the pressure off families: help with energy bills; controls on the private rented sector. These are the things that matter to people.
"We'll see next Thursday won't we whether those policies are making sense to people and giving them real answers to the problems they face."
Mr Miliband rejected criticisms of Labour's election broadcast, which portrayed Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as the Un-credible Shrinking Man and Conservative Cabinet ministers as out-of-touch "toffs".
Critics of the broadcast, filmed like a 1950s B-movie, should "lighten up a bit", said the Labour leader.
"We were talking there about the substance of what this Government has done," he told Breakfast. "Let's have a debate about whether it is fair to have a bedroom tax on ordinary families while cutting taxes on the richest in society. I don't think that's fair. I don't think it's right. I don't think it's what a One Nation government should do."
Mr Miliband challenged the idea that improvements in GDP were winning voters over to the Tories: "I don't really see it that way. The Government says the economy is fixed and everything is fine. What I see going out and talking to people - and some of the polls are reflective of this - is deep discontent with the way the country is being run.
"This is not a country where people think everything is going fine. I think this is a country where people are deeply frustrated about the way the country is run. They really feel they are not getting a fair shot."
The ICM poll for the Guardian, released as US president Barack Obama's former campaign guru David Axelrod arrived in London to begin work with Mr Miliband's party, put the Conservatives on 33%, with Labour sliding six points since April to 31%, Ukip on 15% - a four point gain since last month - and the Liberal Democrats up one point to 13%.
Mr Miliband was given a net approval rating of minus 25, with 51% of voters believing he is doing a bad job and just 26% believing he is doing well. Mr Cameron enjoyed a dramatic improvement from the minus 15 rating he received 12 months ago, to plus two now, with 44% of voters believing he is doing a good job, against 42% who think he is doing badly.
The first in a series of weekly telephone surveys carried out for Lord Ashcroft put David Cameron's party on 34%, two points ahead of Labour on 32%, with the UK Independence Party third on 15% and Liberal Democrats trailing on 9%.
But Mr Miliband said: "Polls go up and down. I've seen that over three and a half years in this job. I think what matters is talking about the bread and butter issues people face - energy prices, childcare, the NHS, how we can improve GP access, something Labour is leading the other parties on.
"We will talk about the issues that matter to people. We will focus on these questions. The people will make the decisions a week on Thursday and at the general election."
Mr Miliband said he was "very disappointed" at the Government's response to his high-profile announcement yesterday of a Labour promise to give all NHS patients access to a GP within 48 hours.
"They say doctors can't deliver it," he said. "They are writing off the idea that we can deliver appointments in 48 hours and so we are going to have to wait more than a week. That's not good enough. I'm determined we can make a difference."
A former minister in Gordon Brown's administration warned that the current Labour leadership is not friendly to business.
Lord Jones, a former CBI boss who served as trade minister but never took the Labour whip, told BBC2's Daily Politics : "The Labour leadership is one of the least business friendly leaders of political parties I've seen for years."
Conservative MP Brooks Newmark said: " Even Digby Jones, who served alongside Ed Miliband under Gordon Brown, realises that Labour's short-term gimmicks would stop businesses creating jobs and risk the recovery.
"Ed Miliband has no plan and his only policies are the same old Labour solutions of more spending, more borrowing and more taxes.
"By refusing to back small businesses and promising more taxes, Ed Miliband is putting political opportunism above the economic security of hard-working families."