Support for strict immigration controls hits record high

Join the queue. Michel Spingler/AP

Support among the British public for a sharp reduction in immigration has risen by close to 10% over the past two years to reach an all-time high, according to the latest results from a long-running survey.

The findings from the 31st British Social Attitudes survey by NatCen showed 56% of respondents now want immigration to be reduced “a lot”, up from 51% in 2011, when the immigration questions were last posed.

The results were published after a year in which immigration has often dominated political discussion, most recently around an anticipated influx from EU member states Romania and Bulgaria.

It also follows other studies which have emphasised a tendency for people to overestimate the extent of immigration, and overstate the negative impacts.

The survey found more than three quarters of people want some form of reduction in immigration, even though less than half those asked thought it had a negative effect on the British economy or cultural life.

More than half of those who considered either the economic or cultural impact to be favourable still wanted immigration to be reduced.

“The public broadly agrees that immigration is too high, but there are stark social divisions over the economic and cultural benefits of immigration,” NatCen Social Research chief executive Penny Young said.

A deeper dive into the more than 3,000 interviews with British adults in the second half of 2013 throws up examples of that. Some 60% of graduates said immigration was good for the economy while 61% of those with no qualifications took the opposite view.

Rob Ford, lecturer in Politics at The University of Manchester, said the sustained concern around immigration levels - coupled with softening views on the impact - made for a tricky political call.

“Politicians from all the mainstream parties will face intense pressure on the issue,” he said.

“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”.

The researchers also highlighted a dilemma for the Labour party within the findings, with the issue of immigration completely splitting their base. Of Labour supporters, 40% considered immigration a boon for the economy while only slightly fewer labelled it a burden. There was a similar result when they were asked about the cultural impact.