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British Future and Ipsos publish new report on public opinion on UK immigration

Public dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of immigration is at its highest level since before the EU referendum, according to new data from the Immigration Attitudes Tracker from Ipsos and British Future, which has tracked public attitudes to immigration since 2015.

The findings are set out in a new report, Immigration and the election: Time to choose, published by British Future.

Graph showing very high levels of dissatisfaction with the government on immigration since 2015

Some 69% of the public say they are dissatisfied with the way the current government is dealing with immigration and just 9% are satisfied. Only 16% of current Conservative supporters – and just 8% of those who voted Conservative in 2019 – are satisfied with the government’s handling of the issue.

Reasons for dissatisfaction vary according to people’s politics. The number one reason given is ‘not doing enough to stop channel crossings’, chosen by 54% of those who are dissatisfied, with 51% also saying it is because ‘immigration numbers are too high’. Yet 28% of those dissatisfied say it’s because of ‘creating a negative or fearful environment for migrants who live in Britain’ and for 25% the reason is ‘not treating asylum seekers well’.

For Labour supporters who are dissatisfied with the government, ‘Creating a negative or fearful environment for migrants’ (42%) is as important as ‘Not doing enough to stop channel crossings’ (41%).

Immigration and the election

When we do finally go to the polls later this year, will this be an ‘immigration election’ asks the report? Only for a minority. Around half of Conservatives (53%) say the issue is important in deciding how they will vote in the coming election, but it still comes after after the NHS (57%) and cost of living (55%) as their third most important issue. For Labour voters immigration ranks 12th in importance, with half as many saying it matters in deciding their vote (27%).

A numbers game?

In a period of high net migration, the new tracker survey finds that 52% of the public now supports reducing immigration (up from 48% in 2023). Four in ten people do not want reductions: 23% would prefer numbers to stay the same and 17% would like them to increase. Support for reducing immigration is still significantly lower than in 2015, the first year of the tracker, when 67% of the public backed reductions.

Attitudes differ significantly by politics. Seven in ten Conservative supporters (72%) want immigration numbers reduced. But most Labour supporters don’t, preferring immigration numbers to either remain the same (32%) or increase (20%), while 40% want reductions.

However, even those who want lower numbers find it difficult to identify what migration they would cut. Almost half of the 337,240 work visas granted in 2023 were ‘Skilled Worker – Health and Care’ visas. The tracker finds that 51% of the public would like the number of doctors coming to the UK from overseas to increase (24% remain the same, 15% decrease); 52% would like the number of migrant nurses to increase (23% remain the same, 15% decrease) and 42% would like more people coming to the UK from overseas to work in care homes (27% remain the same, 18% decrease).

For a range of other working roles, support for not reducing immigration numbers is higher than that for reducing them. Less than 3 in 10 people support reducing numbers of seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers, construction labourers, restaurant & catering staff, teachers, academics, computer experts and lorry drivers coming to the UK. When allocating work visas for immigration, the public would prefer the government to prioritise migration to address shortages at all skill levels (52%) than attracting people for highly skilled roles (26%).

Support for reducing the number of international students coming to the UK has increased by 4 points, with around a third of people (35%) preferring numbers to be reduced. But most of the public (53%) does not want to reduce student numbers. A third would prefer numbers to remain the same (34%) and a further fifth (19%) would like to see them increase.

The politics of immigration

As the UK heads towards a General Election, the tracker finds that the Labour Party is more trusted than the Conservatives to have ‘the right immigration policies overall’. Reform UK is slightly more trusted than the Conservatives but less trusted than Labour. Some 22% of the public says they trust the Conservative Party to have ‘the right immigration policies overall’, while 68% say they don’t trust the party. For Labour, 33% trust the party while 51% say they don’t. And 26% of the public says they trust the Reform UK Party on immigration, while 47% say they don’t – a similar score to the Lib Dems (trust 23%, distrust 50%).

Among leading politicians tested, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had the highest ‘distrust’ score, with 70% of the public saying they do not trust the PM on immigration and 21% saying they do. Some 57% say they distrust Labour leader Keir Starmer on immigration, with 31% saying they trust him. Nigel Farage is distrusted by 59% of the public on immigration and trusted by 29% – making him slightly more trusted than former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is distrusted by 63% and trusted by 22% of the public.

Refugees, asylum and Rwanda

On asylum, the tracker finds that 47% of the public supports the Rwanda scheme and 29% are opposed to it. Opinion is divided by politics, with 75% support among Conservatives (and 10% opposition) compared to 31% support among Labour supporters and 47% opposition.

Only 32% of the public thinks the Rwanda scheme is likely to reduce the number of people trying to enter the UK without permission to seek asylum, while 56% think it is unlikely to do so.

Because the Rwanda scheme has often been mis-described, for instance as an offshoring scheme, the tracker tested which of three versions of the Rwanda policy people prefer:

  • 32% chose the description of the government’s actual Rwanda scheme: “Remove asylum seekers to Rwanda to claim asylum there, without first assessing the claim.”
  • 25% preferred a different version of the Rwanda scheme to the one that the government is pursuing: “Assess these asylum claims in the UK first, to only consider removals to Rwanda for those whose asylum claims fail”.
  • 26% chose “Do not send anyone to Rwanda, regardless of how they arrived.”
  • 5% chose “none of these” and 12% “don’t know”.

Overall, more people still think immigration has a positive impact on Britain (40%) than a negative impact (35%) though positivity has fallen slightly, by 3 points, since the last tracker in 2023 and from its March 2020 peak of 48%.

Ipsos interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 adults online aged 18+ across Great Britain between 17-28 February 2024. Data are weighted to reflect the population profile. All polls are subject to a range of potential sources of error.

Download and read the full report here