Is immigration really the biggest issue facing the UK?

- Posted in United Kingdom by Dominicon 14 January 2013

One in three people surveyed
said UK immigration was the
biggest issue facing the

A recent study by a leading think-tank has revealed that UK immigration is considered the biggest issue threatening the UK, but is it as bad as it seems?

The report, titled 'State of the Nation: Where is Bittersweet Britain Heading?' was written by the think-tank British Future and published in the Observer, claims that one in three Britons believe tensions between immigrants and those born in the UK is the most divisive issue in the country.

Public concern

Immigration was chosen by more people as the nation's biggest issue than the still flailing economy and the housing market's ongoing problems.

Net migration to the UK stood at record high levels until recently with over 250,000 more people entering the UK than leaving each year. Figures have since started to reduce after the Conservative-led coalition Government's changes continued to take their toll but it appears to have done little to dampen the public's concerns.

The study, which surveyed 2,515 people aged between 16 and 75, said respect for the law, for the freedom of speech of others and English language ability were the three most important traits for new immigrants to have.

Is it damaging?

The Labour Party has admitted in recent months that their government's actions which encouraged large amounts of immigration fostered negative attitudes toward those who criticised immigration rates.

However, while the British Future's report showed that the public was more concerned with immigration than any other single issue, it also showed that they country is tolerant towards immigrants, with almost 70% of those surveyed saying immigrants should be given access to the welfare state as long as they contribute to society and keep within the boundaries of the law.

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said the report showed an anxiety regarding immigration at a national level but that this considerably reduced when respondents considered their local areas: just 19% reported immigration to be the most divisive around their own homes.

"People are obviously very anxious about immigration," said Mr Katwala. "But I was struck by how much higher it was as a national rather than a local tension.

"That to me suggest that managing local tensions is obviously very important, but it is probably not the answer entirely because people have this national-level concern.

"I think would be wrong to say that local concerns are real and national concerns are just driven by the media, but I think what is going on there is people asking: 'does the system work?' And I don't think anyone has any confidence as how it is managed as a system.

"Also there is a concern around national cohesion, identity and ability to cope with the scale of change."

Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says the report proves that attitudes towards immigration and immigrants are not as caustic as some would have you believe.

"Expressing opinions on immigration levels has become thin ice for many people; those lamenting high levels are labelled xenophobic while those advocating the benefits of multiculturalism are blamed for economic troubles," said Ms Murdock.

"Yet the report shows that neither label is fair or accurate; the public's concern does not lie in issues with individual immigrants but the numbers of immigrants.

"As the Government continues to take measures to reduce net migration the public's welcoming attitude should become more evident."

- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.