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UK Politics

Graduates four times more likely to back immigration – as nearly all Britons say speaking English is key to national identity

Social divide opens up while British attitudes to migrants have hardened

Attitudes towards immigration and British identity have become increasingly hardline over the past decade.

A major study has revealed a growing chasm over the issue with the views of young, metropolitan professionals – who believe immigration is economically and culturally positive – now diverging sharply from worse off older groups living outside the capital.

Last year 77 per cent of the UK public wanted immigration reduced – compared to  63 per cent in 1995. The 31st NatCen Social Research British Social Attitude survey found that even those who backed the idea of controlled migration were now among those who believed numbers of new arrivals should be cut.

The report found six out 10 graduates were strong supporters of the benefits of an open-door policy. Their view was shared by just 17 per cent of those with no qualifications.

Alison Park, director of the survey, said there appeared to be “two Britains” and concerns over immigration levels had influenced attitudes towards Britishness. “You have this big social division between those who are more positive and those who are less positive.”

The study found that two-thirds of Britons agreed that immigrants should wait at least three years before they can claim welfare rights.

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed believed the main reason why people came to the UK was to claim benefits whilst there was a 6 per cent increase since 2003 in those who believed immigration led to increased crime. As a nation it also emerged that the bar for what is considered Britishness had been set higher.

There is now near universal belief (95 per cent) that  speaking English is a pre-requisite of national identity – up 9 per cent.

Sunder Katwala, director of the think-tank British Future, said despite the polarisation between supporters and opponents, a “pragmatic majority” accepted immigrants should be granted full citizenship based on the “fair play” values of language proficiency and ability to contribute economically to society