17 Jun 2014

Attitudes to immigration are hardening – survey

Britons are showing an increasingly hardline attitude towards immigrants, according to a major new survey of social attitudes.

The NatCen Social Research survey of more than 3,000 people across Britain shows that almost two-thirds of people think immigrants from within the European Union should have to wait at least three years before they’re allowed to claim welfare benefits.

The findings echo the surge in support for the UK Independence Party at the recent local and European elections.

It is now harder to be considered British than in the past. Penny Young, NatCen Social Research

Almost a quarter of those who responded said they believed the main reason immigrants wanted to come to the UK was in order to claim benefits and not for other reasons, like joining their family or to study.

And over the last ten years, there’s been a sharp rise in the number who think non-British immigrants should not be granted the same legal rights as British citzens.

‘Must speak English’

The survey reveals a similarly hardline view on what it means to be British – with some 95 per cent claiming it must involve the ability to speak English, while three quarters say it is important to have been born in Britain.

Penny Young, chief executive of NatCen Social Research said despite the country’s increasing diversity and multi-cultural population, attitudes towards nationality were anything but relaxed. “It is now harder to be considered British than in the past, and one message comes through loud and clear, if you want to be British, you must speak English”, she said.

Compared with a survey carried out a decade ago, more people now think immigrants increase crime rates – 43 per cent in 2013, up from 37 per cent in 2003.

The survey reveals sharp differences in attitudes towards immigrants based on class and geographic location. Those who are better off and better educated generally hold more positive views – while Londoners are much more likely to feel that immigration benefits the UK, than those living elsewhere.

It highlights a NatCen survey earlier this year which also found considerable social and political divisions on immigration and its impact on the country. While many people said it was good for the economy and cultural diversity, just as many wanted to see the number of immigrants allowed into Britain to be reduced.