Most British people view immigration positively, new study finds

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The UK flag. Copyright Francisco Seco/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Joshua Askew
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Increasing numbers of British people hold more positive views towards immigrants, researchers have revealed.


The European Social Survey (ESS) has found that most British people view immigration positively, despite the government's controversial attempts to crack down on the phenomenon. 

Sampling attitudes every two years since 2002, it said perceptions of immigrants had become markedly more favourable over the past two decades. 

When it comes to the impact of immigration on the UK, a majority of those surveyed by the ESS last year (59%) said it had a positive effect on the economy - up from 17% in 2002.

Similar feelings were expressed towards enriching cultural life (increasing from 33% in 2002 to 58% in 2022) and making the country a better place (20% to 56% over the same period).

Remaining relatively stable between 2002 and 2014, the results showed that attitudes towards immigrants became more positive between 2016 and 2022, coinciding with the Brexit vote and Britain's departure from the European Union. 

In 2002, the ESS survey found that 8% of respondents thought people of a "different race or ethnic group to the majority" should be allowed into the country.

That jumped to 34% in 2022. 

While supporters of the centre-left Labour Party were revealed to hold much more favourable views about immigration, a positive shift was also observed among right-wing Conservative voters. 

Overall migration into the UK hit the highest level ever recorded in 2022, the Office for National Statistics announced in May. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a key electoral promise to slash migrant numbers - echoing a largely failed pledge of many of his predecessors - in response. 

Trailing in the opinion polls, his Conservative party has pursued a number of highly controversial hardline immigration policies, such as stalled plans to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda and housing others in "prison barges". 

“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,” said Alun Humphrey, of the National Centre for Social Research, who helped coordinate the survey. 

Their research was carried out between August 2021 and September 2022 and 1,149 participants took part. 

It involved strict random sampling and was weighted to ensure the data is representative of the population.

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