Two-thirds of UK public ‘dissatisfied with government’s approach to immigration’

The dissatisfaction is on both sides of the political divide but for different reasons, the research by Ipsos and think tank British Future suggests

Aine Fox
Tuesday 12 September 2023 05:01 BST
Dissatisfaction among the British public at the Government’s handling of immigration is at its highest level since before the Brexit vote, according to research (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Dissatisfaction among the British public at the Government’s handling of immigration is at its highest level since before the Brexit vote, according to research (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

Dissatisfaction among the British public at the government’s handling of immigration is at its highest level since before the Brexit vote, according to research.

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of those questioned across England, Scotland and Wales said they are dissatisfied with the way politicians in charge are dealing with the issue, the Immigration Attitudes Tracker survey suggested.

The level is the highest it has been since 2015 when the survey began, and the latest figure is up from a low of 41 per cent in 2020.

The dissatisfaction is on both sides of the political divide but for different reasons, the research by Ipsos and think tank British Future showed.

Among Conservative supporters, 56 per cent are dissatisfied while just over a fifth (22 per cent) said they are satisfied with the government’s handling of the issue, while among Labour supporters almost three-quarters (73 per cent) are dissatisfied while 8 per cent are satisfied.

For 82 per cent of dissatisfied Conservative supporters, “not doing enough to stop Channel migrant crossings” is cited as being their main reason why.

Last week, Labour accused the prime minister of having “failed to get a grip” on the issue as the milestone of 20,000 crossings in 2023 to date was reached.

But Rishi Sunak continued to defend his “stop the boats” plan and insisted the government is making progress and its efforts are “working”.

Among dissatisfied Labour supporters surveyed in the British Future research, fewer people (46 per cent) pointed to stopping Channel crossings as a main reason, while a similar proportion felt the current political approach is “creating a negative or fearful environment for migrants who live in Britain”, and that the government is “not treating asylum seekers well”.

Only 4 per cent of dissatisfied Tory supporters chose “not treating asylum seekers well” as a reason.

The survey of 3,000 adults online in July and August suggested that 48 per cent of the public now supports reducing immigration – an increase from 42 per cent last year.

There are more divisions along party lines on this issue, with more than two-thirds of Conservative supporters (67 per cent) now favouring reducing migration, while just over a third (38 per cent) of Labour supporters favour reductions.

More than half (56 per cent) of Labour supporters said immigration numbers should either rise or stay the same.

More people (43 per cent) think immigration has had a positive impact on Britain than the 37 per cent who feel its effect has been negative, the research showed.

But negativity has increased by eight percentage points from 29 per cent since 2022, those behind the survey added.

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said: “The government’s approach to immigration, particularly asylum and small boats, is disappointing everyone – but for different reasons.

“Liberals think it is inhumane, while hardliners think it isn’t achieving what has been promised. What they all have in common is the feeling that the government isn’t doing a good job.

“Attitudes to immigration are nuanced but the sharp divide along party political lines means we should expect a noisier, more heated immigration debate as Britain heads towards a general election.

“But politicians won’t rebuild public trust by raising the volume of the debate – that will take workable solutions, particularly on asylum, that balance control and compassion.”

Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos, said: “There is no simple answer to meeting voters’ demands on this issue, as views are split and often nuanced.

“For example, Britons also continue to support migration for specific sectors of work (especially health and social care), while control over who comes in is often as if not more important as the total numbers.

“But with an election on the horizon and attention on the issue of immigration and asylum unlikely to go away, there isn’t much trust in either of the main parties to get the balance right.”

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