Most people in Ipswich take a ‘balanced’ view on immigration, according to the first-ever detailed research on public attitudes in the town on this issue. Majorities in three research groups said that migrants made a contribution to the economy but voiced concerns about numbers and the pace of change in parts of Ipswich, as well as the draw of benefits and pressures on public services.
Ipswich is one of 24 towns and cities across the UK that has so far been part of the National Conversation on Immigration, the biggest-ever public consultation on the issue, which will visit a total of 60 locations by spring next year. People in the area are invited to have their say in an online survey at www.nationalconversation.org.uk and national opinion polling will also form part of a final report to the Home Affairs Committee in 2018.
The findings of the National Conversation feed into the Immigration Inquiry run by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, providing an opportunity for members of the public to have their say on immigration policy after Brexit in a way that will be heard by decision-makers. Two citizens’ panels were held in Ipswich as part of the survey – one male, one female – as well as a stakeholders meeting including representatives from local businesses, universities and civil society organisations.
Just over half of both Ipswich citizens’ panels wanted to keep levels of migration about the same for all groups of migrants after Britain leaves the EU, including low-skilled and seasonal workers. Yet the groups did raise concerns about immigration numbers, with some support for an Australian-style points-based immigration system. Suggestions on EU migration after Brexit included requiring EU migrants to have a job or find a job soon after arrival, as well as being obliged to learn English.
Panellists also raised concerns about effective border controls and undocumented migration – though like many Britons, they were unwilling to pay more taxes in order to strengthen border controls.
People also expressed sympathy for refugees and asylum-seekers, particularly young children, but had concerns about the effectiveness of the asylum system, the integration of new arrivals, and ensuring that Britain wasn’t taking more than its fair share of refugees.
Members of the Ipswich citizens’ panels said:
“I have no problem coming here to work, we have fruit pickers here because they can’t get people here to do it, people who live around the areas won’t do fruit picking so they get Bulgarians, Romanians, who make a lot of money, work like crazy and make lots of money and then go back at the end of the season.”
“They [EU citizens] shouldn’t be allowed here unless they’ve got a job to come to or if they haven’t found a job within perhaps months. And I think if they don’t speak English when they arrive, then it should be compulsory to attend English classes so that they integrate with our society.”
Made possible by funds raised by the public in memory of Jo Cox MP after her tragic murder last year, the National Conversation on Immigration is coordinated by British Future and anti-prejudice campaigners HOPE Not Hate and takes place in a different town each week, in every region and nation of the UK. As well as the citizens’ panel, the organisers meet local organisations, councillors and business leaders in each location to hear their views. We are regularly updating and sharing the conversations from around the country at www.nationalconversation.org.uk and via Twitter at @NationalConvers.