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More than 3 in 4 want reduction in immigration

But fewer now believe immigration is bad for the UK economy

07 January 2014 | Tags: British Social Attitudes, immigration

New findings from NatCen Social Research’s British Social Attitudes survey show that 77% of the public want to see a reduction in immigration and a significant increase in the number who want immigration reduced “a lot”, up from 51% in 2011 to 56% in 2013.

However, despite concern about unemployment rates, falling wages and spending cuts, and high profile debates over migration from Romania and Bulgaria, fewer people now than in 2011 think immigration is bad for the economy – 47% in 2013 compared with 52%.

The findings from NatCen’s flagship survey have been released for the BBC Two programme ‘The Truth About Immigration’, presented by BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson that will air on 7 January.

The figures reveal some of the complexity surrounding public attitudes to immigration, with many people who believe immigration to be good for the UK also expressing concern about its current level. 54% who see immigration as good for the economy and 55% of those who see it is as culturally beneficial also want to see immigration reduced.

Penny Young, Chief Executive, NatCen Social Research said “British Social Attitudes shows that public desire for a cut in immigration to the UK had begun to rise even before the restrictions on migrants from Romania or Bulgaria were lifted at the start of the year. Moreover, a majority of people who think immigration is good, economically or culturally, for the UK still want to see it cut. These findings highlight the complexity of this issue for politicians facing two elections in 18 months and with limited options if they want to attempt to reduce migration from Europe. The public broadly agrees that immigration is too high, but there are stark social divisions over the economic and cultural benefits of immigration."

A socially and politically divisive issue

Social divisions in the level of concern about migration and its effect complicate the picture for politicians.

There are significant differences across party lines, with the issue particularly divisive for the Labour party – 40% of Labour party supporters think immigration is bad for the economy but 36% believe it is good for the economy, and while 40% think immigration is bad for British culture 41% see it as good for British culture.

Supporters of the two parties in government are also a long way away from each other on this issue; 52% of Conservatives believe Britain’s cultural life is undermined by immigration into the UK compared with 20% of Liberal Democrats.

Those expressing the most positive views of immigration are graduates, 60 per cent of whom think immigration is good for the economy compared with 31% of the population as a whole; and the highest earners (48% of whom think immigration is economically beneficial).

Immigration is least popular among people with few or no qualifications, 85% of whom want to see a decrease, and people in higher grade manual jobs, 88% of whom want a reduction. But while the highest earners and people in professional occupations are more positive about immigration, both middle and low earners hold very similar views both on the level of immigration and on its impact.

Dr Rob Ford, Lecturer in Politics, The University of Manchester said “The new British Social Attitudes data on immigration attitudes reveal a complex picture for policymakers. On the one hand, concern about migration levels remains intense, and with UKIP gaining ground by holding out the prospect of drastic cuts in migration, politicians from all the mainstream parties will face intense pressure on the issue.

On the other hand, the public remain more evenly divided about the effects of migration, despite the emotive debates about Romania and Bulgaria. This suggests many voters recognise there are positive effects to migration, and may be swayed by arguments about the negative social and economic consequences of drastic cuts. However, with public trust in all parties' competence on the issue at all time lows, the first task for policymakers will be to restore voters' faith in their ability to manage migration”.

ENDS

For more about the British Social Attitudes survey information, contact: Leigh Marshall, Head of Press and Public Affairs, NatCen: 0207 549 8506/07828 031 850 leigh.marshall@natcen.ac.uk or Naomi Joyner, Press Officer, NatCen: 0207 549 9550 or 0773 4960 069 naomi.joyner@natcen.ac.uk

For more information about BBC Two’s The Truth About Immigration, please contact Amanda Hearn, Publicist BBC News and Current Affairs: Tel: 07720 671 396 Email: amanda.hearn@bbc.co.uk

NOTES:

  • About NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey: The NatCen Social Research British Social Attitudes survey has been conducted annually since 1983. Since then around 90,000 people have taken part in the survey. The 2013 survey consisted of 3,244 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain, carried out between June and October 2013.
  • The Truth About Immigration, presented by BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson, airs on Tuesday 7th January at 21:30 on BBC Two.