Anti-immigrant sentiments seem to be on the rise in Britain with 77% of the public saying they want a reduction in immigration.
A NatCen Social Research’s British Social Attitudes survey has revealed a significant increase in the number of Britons 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 were released for the BBC Two programme ‘The Truth About Immigration’, presented by BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson that went on air on 7th January 2014.
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.
Fifty four per cent 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."
Graduates expressed the most positive views of immigration, with 60 per cent saying immigration is good for the economy compared with 31% of the population as a whole.
The highest earners also hold positive views of immigration. In fact 48% of them think immigration is economically beneficial.
The case is different when it comes to people with few or no qualifications. At least 85% of people in this category want to see a decrease in immigration.
At the same time, 88% of people in higher grade manual jobs also want to see a decrease.
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.