An increasing number of British people believe ethnic minorities are integrating well within local neighbourhoods even though most still want a sharp reduction in immigration, a government poll on social attitudes has found.
The latest update of the “citizenship survey”, which has sought people’s views about community cohesion since 2001, showed that 77 per cent of people thought immigration should be cut, with slightly more than half saying it should be reduced “by a lot”.
Those figures will be seized on by anti-immigration lobby groups, who argue that the mainstream political parties remain out of step with the electorate over the issue, with many voters saying it is one of their highest priorities.
However, the survey – conducted for the Department of Communities and Local Government – also showed that 84 per cent of people agreed that their local neighbourhood was a place where people from different backgrounds got on well together, up from 80 per cent in 2005.
The far-right British National party has made some electoral inroads in recent years by stoking up fears that “ordinary white people” have become marginalised in the UK. But the survey of 15,000 adults in England and Wales showed that, even among white respondents, 83 per cent of people thought their community was cohesive – up from 81 per cent in the previous year. People living in the most deprived parts of the country were less upbeat, with only 69 per cent believing their community was well integrated.
The 2008-09 survey also showed that negative attitudes towards immigration were not softening. There was a small decrease in the number of people who want to see a big fall in immigration, but the number who want some kind of cut remains stable at more than three-quarters.
Students, better-paid workers and holders of degrees were far more favourable towards immigration than those further down the wage scale and people without qualifications, who often find themselves competing with migrant workers. The issue of immigration is shaping up as a key electoral battleground.
The Labour government argues that its points-based system for non-European Union workers is helping to cut migrant numbers after a period in which it has been accused of operating an “open door” policy.
Alan Johnson, the home secretary, has admitted that the government has been “maladroit” in addressing the concerns of voters over the issue, with Labour particularly worried about losing core support in its traditional industrial heartlands.
The Conservatives have promised a yearly cap on migrants, although it is unclear how much scope they would have to make a reduction, given that they will not be able to stop people coming from the EU.
The survey also raises questions about Tory claims that British society is “broken”, with nine out of 10 people saying that they “definitely” or “to some extent” enjoy living in their neighbourhood.