Despite worries about public services and benefits system, people are more likely to have friends from diverse backgrounds than they were ten years ago
‘Benefit tourism’ is still the main concern of the British public when it comes to immigration, according to a Times/YouGov poll on public attitudes.
56 per cent of respondents named this as the main negative effect of immigration; 45 per cent said they worried most about increased pressure on public services; and 44 per cent said that allowing people with extremist views or terrorist sympathies into the country was their biggest concern.
63 per cent of voters do not believe that any political party is able to control the number of immigrants coming to the UK.
As YouGov’s president Peter Kellner points out, there is a difference between the way people perceive immigration as an issue and the way they perceive immigrants themselves. 75 per cent of respondents said that there had been too much immigration over the last ten years. However, when asked to consider specific groups people are generally less hostile; most voters reject reducing the current numbers of immigrants who come to work in the NHS, to study or to flee war and persecution.
A majority also reject cutbacks to the numbers of wealthy immigrants wanting to invest in Britain, and people with high levels of education and skills.
Bearing this information in mind, it is clear that stereotypes about certain nationalities persist. When asked about immigration from different parts of the world,
53 per cent said US immigrants would make a positive contribution
50 per cent said German immigrants would make a positive contribution
44 per cent said Indian immigrants would make a positive contribution
27 per cent said Pakistani immigrants would make a positive contribution
18 per cent said Romanian immigrants would make a positive contribution
12 per cent said Somalian immigrants would make a positive contribution
Tabloids are fond of portraying Romanians and Somalians as lazy and exploitative of the benefits system, and this may have altered public perception. These are also poorer countries than the US and Germany, meaning that immigrants are less likely to be investors or paying students.
The difference between perceptions of Indians and Pakistanis also suggests that religion plays an important role, although participants were not specifically asked about this.
There are also some positive findings from the poll. In 2005, 50 per cent of people questioned by YouGov said that all of their close friends were white; that number has now decreased to 37 per cent.
This suggests that, despite the anger people feel at the government’s apparent lack of control over immigration numbers, we are as a society adapting to the impact of immigration. Dislike of immigration is strongest among women, working-class voters and people over 40, the people who are likely to feel least secure in society, and who have the most to fear from a clogged up benefits system or a lack of access to healthcare.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.