The majority of British voters believe immigration does more harm to the country than good, according to a major poll.
In an authoritative survey of more than 20,000 people, 60 per cent felt there were more disadvantages than advantages to foreigners coming to live in the UK.
Just one in six believed that immigration was a good thing for Britain overall, according to the research commissioned by the former Conservative party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft.
The most common concern surrounding immigration was the idea that migrants put pressure on the benefits system and public services by using them without contributing in return. This outweighed fears that foreigners took jobs that might otherwise go to British workers, or that they changed the character and culture of local areas.
The results of the poll were nonetheless varied, with Lord Ashcroft splitting the population into seven "segments" of opinion – from the 16 per cent of British people who exhibit "Universal Hostility" towards immigration at one end of the spectrum to the 10 per cent who are "Militant Multiculturalists" at the other.
Overall, 77 per cent of those polled believed a dramatic reduction in immigration would benefit the economy. Just over a third said they were concerned a friend or relative had struggled with competition for employment from migrants, while a quarter said they had been denied access to housing or another public service because priority seemed to have been given to a foreigner.
In terms of the perceived advantages of immigration, the most popular aspect was the idea migrants would do jobs British people aren’t willing to do, and would work harder for lower wages. This rated higher than any cultural contributions or specific, specialist skill-sets brought in from abroad.
The research also used the Home Office’s recent “Go Home or Face Arrest” ad van campaign as a case study to assess opinions on immigration policy.
It found that nearly 80 per cent of the public supported the use of the banners, representing majorities in favour from all of the major political parties.
Only 17 per cent thought the campaign would actually work, however, and dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of Government measures to enact change on immigration was the one opinion which everyone could agree on, according to Lord Ashcroft.
Introducing the research paper, the Tory peer wrote: “Public opinion on immigration is more varied, and certainly more nuanced, than is sometimes supposed. Those who take the most favourable view often regard opponents as backward-looking and fearful of change. Those who are most concerned think supporters of immigration are insulated from its more challenging consequences.
“One thing that unites people with different views about immigration is their conviction that politicians have handled it badly: whether because they are incompetent, fail to listen, are afraid to be accused of racism, or are too weak to set out the advantages of immigration in the face of public opposition.
“People’s concerns about immigration are part of a bigger set of anxieties. They see the pace of change continuing and even accelerating, and they know Britain in 20 years will look different from the Britain of today, let alone that of 20 years ago.
“Some welcome that, many are ambivalent and others are scared. In the end, migration is inseparable from global economic conditions; governments appear as powerless to manage the first as to deal with the consequences of the second.”
The full research, which includes political analysis and profiles of the seven different kinds of public opinion on immigration, can be read online here.