By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2613

Support for migrants is on the increase, survey shows

This article is over 5 years, 11 months old
Issue 2613
The Tories have been stoking up racism
The Tories have been stoking up racism (Pic: Ian Burt/Flickr)

A growing number of people think that immigration has had a positive impact on British society.

The British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey’s findings released last week show people’s views on immigration aren’t fixed—and that it’s possible to push back against racist ideas.

Some 47 percent of people think that migrants have a positive impact on Britain’s economy, according to the BSA.

That’s up from 21 percent during the 2011 survey.

In the five years since the last survey attitudes have become more positive about migrants’ economic impact.

This shift has taken place as the Tories and right wing press have ramped up scapegoating of migrants.

The survey also shows that the vote to leave the European Union (EU) in June 2015 has not led to a carnival of reaction. The biggest positive shift in attitudes on migrants’ economic impact happened between 2015 and 2017.

As the BSA notes, “There are little signs here that the EU referendum campaign served to make Britain less tolerant towards migrants.

“They have apparently come to be valued to a degree that was not in evidence before the referendum ­campaign.”

This doesn’t mean that racism against migrants is not a problem. Both the official Remain and Leave campaigns whipped up racism during the EU referendum campaign—and racists felt emboldened by the result.

The BSA notes that “support for leaving the EU has increased much more among those who think migrants have undermined Britain’s cultural life”.

This means that people who started with a negative view of migrants’ cultural impact are now more likely to support Brexit.

It doesn’t mean that people who support Brexit have become more likely to think migrants have undermined “British culture”.


The results from previous BSA surveys shows people’s attitudes towards immigration are often contradictory.

The survey from 2016 said that people’s attitudes were “more positive but more selective”.

It found that during the 2000s there was a big shift in people’s overall views about migrants’ economic impact.

In 2002 those who thought migrants had a bad impact outweighed those who thought they had a good impact by 16 percentage points. By 2014 “good” led over “bad” by 6 percentage points.

But during the same period people’s ideas had hardened about what sort of migrants should be let in.

Last time people were asked, some 84 percent listed a “commitment to a British way of life” as an important criteria.

And 81 percent said that “possessing needed skills” was another qualification for migrants coming to Britain.

Similarly 87 percent said migrants should have the “ability to speak English”.

These were all up by around 10 percentage points between 2002 and 2014.

These criteria reflect how politicians have sought to stoke up racism against migrants.

The BSA survey did not ask a specific question about Muslims and immigration. But there has been a ­well?documented rise in reporting of Islamophobic hate crime.

David Cameron attacked Muslims for not “integrating” into British society. He said Muslim woman couldn’t speak English.

It plays into a broader racist narrative of “good” vs “bad migrants”.

The findings show that racism still has a big hold.

But they also show that the majority of people are not hardened racists and that it’s possible to challenge right wing myths around migration.

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