Majority in UK want immigration curbed

Survey of societal attitudes puts pressure on politicians

UK Independence leader Nigel Farage wants immigrants  barred from getting benefits for five years. Photograph: PA

UK Independence leader Nigel Farage wants immigrants barred from getting benefits for five years. Photograph: PA


A majority of those in Britain with no educational qualifications have said in a recent survey of social attitudes that immigration should be cut back. This has increased pressure on politicians to take a stronger line.

Forty per cent of those with a degree who were polled by NatCen Social Research said immigration should be cut or held steady, that figure jumped to 85 per cent of those with no qualifications or with basic second-level qualifications.

The publication of the British Social Attitudes figures has fed into the increasingly strident debate about immigration, particularly since the lifting on January 1st of restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians working here.

However, the debate surrounding the figures has partially obscured the fact that the numbers who believe immigration has been bad for the British economy has fallen five percentage points since 2011 – from 52 per cent to 47 per cent.

But the findings show that 77 per cent of the public across all ages and incomes want to see immigration reduced, while the number who want it to fall by “a lot” has gone up from 51 per cent in 2011 to 56 per cent in 2013.

The figures illustrate some of the nuances and contradictions about the immigration debate, since more than half of those who believe that immigration has been “culturally beneficial”, nevertheless, want it cut.

Five-year ban
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage yesterday demanded that immigrants be barred from getting benefits for five years, while the Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson wants a two-year ban. Both actions would be illegal under European law.

The UKIP leader, who expects to make substantial gains in this year’s local and European Parliament elections, said he would rather more restrictive immigration over higher economic growth.

“I would rather we weren’t slightly richer and I would rather we had communities that felt more united and I would rather have a situation where young unemployed British people had a realistic chance of getting a job,” he said.

Focusing on the payment of child benefits, Mr Johnson said: “Why should British taxpayers be paying the child benefit of people who may be working in Britain but whose children are living in Poland?”

Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw last night repeated to a BBC documentary his past declaration that Labour had been wrong not to impose a seven-year work ban in 2004 when Eastern European countries joined.

“We did get it wrong and I deeply regret it. I regret it because it undermines trust in government, if you’re that wrong,” said Mr Straw, who believes Labour is at risk from the threat of UKIP.

‘Preventing uneasiness’
Polish ambassador to Britain Witold Sobków criticised the tone of the debate: “There is no need to single out, to stigmatise Poles” who come to Britain “to work hard, not to abuse the system or grab the benefits,” he said.

“Let us not talk about numbers and nationalities; let us concentrate on solving the problems together, on assimilation and integration, on preventing uneasiness in neighbourhoods where there is a significant increase in population, on showing the benefits for the UK.”

The UK should be proud that it is such an attractive destination for citizens of other EU countries, he said: “Why do foreigners come to the UK and want to work and settle down here? It is precisely because you are a great country.”