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British voters have the most positive views about immigrants since at least 2011, with negativity about immigration falling away sharply since 2015, according to a leading survey.
The British Social Attitudes survey, seen as the country’s most rigorous polling exercise, found that just 17 per cent of Britons thought that immigrants had a negative impact on the UK’s economy. Just 23 per cent thought immigrants undermined Britain’s cultural life.
Both counts are markedly lower than when the questions were last asked in 2015, before the Brexit referendum campaign. In 2011, when the questions were first asked, about 40 per cent of people thought immigrants were bad for the economy or British cultural life.
“There is little sign here that the EU referendum campaign served to make Britain less tolerant towards migrants; rather they have apparently come to be valued to a degree that was not in evidence before the referendum campaign,” the British Social Attitudes survey said.
Rhetoric about immigration spiralled during the referendum campaign, and there were reports of increasing crimes against immigrants after the vote. However, this summer the England football team has been heralded as an example of the benefits of diversity: six members of England’s starting 11 had at least one parent born outside the UK.
But the BSA underlined that opinions on Brexit itself have shifted little: the public has proved “relatively resistant to attempts to change their minds about what the consequences of leaving the EU would be”.
It also found growing public support for more welfare spending for the disabled, the unemployed and parents — but not for pensioners. Overall views on welfare are their most positive since at least 2001. Separately, 71 per cent of voters favour a rise in the minimum wage. Public exhaustion with austerity and stalling wages is seen as a key factor in the better than expected electoral fortunes of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
One of the survey’s most intriguing findings relates to automation: three-quarters of respondents said that, within 10 years, machines or computers would do many of the jobs currently done by humans, but only one in 10 were worried about the threat to their own jobs.
More than 90 per cent of people agree that climate change is definitely or probably happening due to human activity, but only 36 per cent see humans as the primary cause.