Guardian (London), June 17, 2014
Nearly two-thirds of British people believe immigrants from within the European Union (EU) should wait at least three years before they are allowed to claim welfare benefits, a major survey of social attitudes has shown.
A hardline view of immigrants is revealed in the 31st NatCen Social Research British Social Attitudes survey, in which nearly a quarter of British people said the main reason immigrants came to the UK was to claim benefits.
There was also a considerable drop in the number of people who believed legal immigrants who were not British citizens should have the same legal rights as British citizens–from 40% in 2003 to 27%.
The survey of more than 3,000 Britons was published after Ukip’s unprecedented success in the recent local and European elections presented major challenges for all three major political parties.
Elsewhere, 95% told the survey that to be “truly British” you had to be able to speak English, while 74% said it was important to have been born in Britain to be considered British.
Penny Young, the chief executive of NatCen Social Research, said: “In an increasingly diverse, multicultural country, we might expect people to be more relaxed about what it means to be British, yet the trend is going in the opposite direction.
“It is now harder to be considered British than in the past and one message comes through loud and clear: if you want to be British, you must speak English.
“And as we debate whether Ukip’s vote will hold up in the general election, British Social Attitudes shows that the public is yet to be convinced that politicians have got a grip on immigration.
“They want tougher rules on benefits and many are unaware of the policies that are in place to control immigration.”
Sixty-one percent of British people think immigrants from the EU should have to wait three years or more before they are allowed to claim welfare benefits.
The prime minister, David Cameron, rushed through measures at the end of last year to ensure EU migrants will be unable to claim out-of-work benefits for their first three months in the UK.
Half of all people–exactly 50%–believe the main reason immigrants come to Britain is to work, according to the survey, but nearly 24% think the main reason is to claim benefits–a higher proportion than think they come mainly to study, to join their family or seek asylum.
Those most concerned about immigration are more likely to think that immigrants come to Britain to claim benefits, NatCen said.
More people than a decade ago–43% in 2013, up from 37% in 2003–think that immigrants increase crime rates.
The survey also found those who are better off and better educated are far more positive about immigration than the rest of the population, with 60% of graduates believing immigration benefits Britain economically, compared with 17% of those with no qualifications.
There is also a geographical divide, with 54% of Londoners taking the view that immigration is good for the economy compared with 28% of people around the rest of the country.
In determining whether someone is “truly British”, 77% said you had to have lived in Britain for most of your life, 51% said it was important to have British ancestry, while only 24% said you needed to be Christian to be considered British.