NEWS3 November 2023

UK immigration attitudes grow more positive, finds study

Inclusion News People Trends UK

UK – Attitudes towards immigration in the UK became more positive in 2022, according to the latest European Social Survey.

People diversity_crop

The 2022 survey found that British people expressed the most positive views on immigration since the survey began in 2001, with 34% agreeing the country should allow many immigrants ‘of a different race or ethnic group to the majority’ into the country in comparison to 8% in 2002.

For immigrants ‘from poorer countries outside of Europe’, the 2022 survey found that proportion who thought we should allow many increased from 8% in 2002 to 31% in 2022.

For the impact of immigration on the country, 59% gave a score of seven or higher out of 10 for positive effects on the economy compared with 17% in 2002.

For enriching cultural life, 58% gave a score higher than seven, compared with 33% in 2002, and 56% thought immigrants made the country a better place to live, as opposed to 20% in 2002, giving a score of seven or more.

The shift towards more favourable views about immigration were noticed across both major political parties, according to the survey, with the proportion that thought we should allow ‘some’ or ‘many’ immigrants from poorer countries outside of Europe increased from 71% in 2002 to 91% in 2022 for Labour supporters, and from 63% to 83% for Conservative supporters.

In 2022, Conservative supporters were more likely to want to allow ‘some’ immigrants and Labour supporters to allow ‘many’ immigrants.

The 2022 survey showed that the majority of Labour supporters believe immigration is good for the economy ( 78% scoring more than seven) culture ( 82% more than six) and making the country a better place to live ( 74% more than six).

However, 48% Conservative supporters scored seven or more on the effects of immigration on the economy, 30% for the effect on culture ( 30%) and 29% for making the country a better place to live.

Alun Humphrey, director of household surveys at the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and UK national coordinator of the European Social Survey, said: “The robust methodology and 20-year time series of the survey provides confidence in the trends in the data that reflect how our attitudes have changed over time.

“It seems like the issue of immigration is likely to remain on the front pages for some time and could well become a key battleground at the next general election.”

Speaking at the Sir Roger Jowell Memorial Lecture in London last night, Robert Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, said 

“More positive attitudes to immigration are, in part, a consequence of the changes that immigration itself brings. We live in a much more diverse society now than we used to. The share of people who have parents or grandparents born abroad are very high,” Ford said.

“That means the idea of immigration and moving across borders is not alien to people. The idea of immigrants as an ‘out’ group, a ‘them’ opposed to ‘us’, is just not tenable to people whom immigration is part of their experience, their family experience and friends’ experience.

“In a country that plays host to immigration over a long period, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in some respects that many of the people in that country will become more open to the idea of immigration as a beneficial phenomenon through direct experience and indirect experience.”

Ford added that the large increase in university graduates as a proportion of the university was also key in encouraging more liberal attitudes towards immigration. 

“Universities are very good as a breeding ground for liberalism. It is not down to any particular system – every country sees the same tendency. It is particularly pronounced on attitudes that are to do with social identity. It is very consequential we have moved from a situation where less than one in 10 people have a degree to more than 40%.”