12 September 2023

Dissatisfaction with Government’s handling of immigration at highest level since 2015

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The Immigration Attitudes Tracker from Ipsos and British Future has tracked public opinion on immigration since 2015. New results find public dissatisfaction with the Government's handling of immigration at its highest level yet – with sharp divisions by party allegiance.

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Public dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of immigration is at its highest level since before the EU referendum, according to the latest findings from the Immigration Attitudes Tracker by Ipsos and British Future.

The new survey finds that two-thirds of the public (66%) are dissatisfied with the way the Government is dealing with immigration, the highest level since the first tracker survey in 2015. Just 12% say they are satisfied.

Only a fifth (22%) of Conservative supporters are satisfied with the Government on immigration while most Conservatives (56%) are dissatisfied – a quarter (26%) ‘very dissatisfied’. Almost three quarters (73%) of Labour supporters are dissatisfied with how the Government is dealing with immigration.

The top reason given for dissatisfaction with the Government is the failure to stop Channel crossings, but responses are divided by politics. For Labour supporters who are unhappy with the Government on immigration, ‘Creating a negative or fearful environment for migrants’ (46%) and ‘Not treating asylum-seekers well’ (45%) are equally important reasons for dissatisfaction as ‘Not doing enough to stop channel crossings’ (46%). Among Conservative supporters, however, 82% cite ‘Not doing enough to stop Channel crossings’ as a reason for their dissatisfaction, and only 9% ‘creating a negative or fearful environment for migrants’.

Such sharp division by politics is common across a range of questions.

At a time of high net migration, the new tracker survey finds that 48% of the public now supports reducing immigration (up from 42% in 2022), compared to 44% who would prefer numbers to stay the same or increase. Support for reducing immigration is still nearly 20 points lower than in 2015, the first year of the tracker, when 67% of the public backed reductions.

More people (43%) think that immigration has had a positive impact on Britain than the 37% who feel its impact has been negative, though negativity has increased by 8 points from 29% since 2022.

Responses differ significantly by politics. Two-thirds of Conservative supporters (67%) now favour reducing migration, compared to only 38% of Labour supporters who favour reductions. More than half (56%) of Labour supporters say immigration numbers should increase (28%) or stay the same (28%), compared to 30% of Conservatives who say numbers should either increase (16%) or stay the same (14%).

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

“The Government’s approach to immigration, particularly asylum and small boats, is disappointing everyone – but for different reasons. Liberals think it is inhumane, while hardliners think it isn’t achieving what has been promised. What they all have in common is the feeling that the Government isn’t doing a good job.

“Attitudes to immigration are nuanced but the sharp divide along party political lines means we should expect a noisier, more heated immigration debate as Britain heads towards a General Election.

‘But politicians won’t rebuild public trust by raising the volume of the debate – that will take workable solutions, particularly on asylum, that balance control and compassion.”

The tracker research finds that 7 in 10 people (71%) say they do not trust the Conservative Party to have the right policies towards migrants crossing the Channel, with just 21% saying they trust Rishi Sunak’s party. The Labour opposition is trusted by 32% of the public to have the right policies on Channel crossings, yet it is distrusted by 53%. Some 52% of Conservative supporters say they do not trust their own party on Channel crossings. But Labour supporters do trust their own party on the issue: 60% say they trust Labour to have the right policies, while 28% do not.

Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos, said:

“Immigration has been rising up the political and public agenda this year, particularly due to unhappiness with the government’s handling of channel crossings, which makes these latest findings timely. We can see that increasing attention reflected in rising concern about numbers and the impact of immigration, although it’s still the case that attitudes remain more positive than before the EU referendum.

“But there is no simple answer to meeting voters’ demands on this issue, as views are split and often nuanced. For example, Britons also continue to support migration for specific sectors of work (especially health and social care), while control over who comes in is often as, if not more, important as the total numbers.

“But with an election on the horizon and attention on the issue of immigration and asylum unlikely to go away, there isn’t much trust in either of the main parties to get the balance right.”

The new survey also finds that support for migration for specific jobs remains largely steady. More than half the public would like to see the number of migrant doctors (53%) and nurses (54%) increase, while less than 1 in 7 favour reductions (13% for doctors and 14% for nurses); for care workers 46% would like to see numbers increase, 28% would rather numbers stayed the same and only 17% would like to see them reduced. Nearly three-quarters of skilled worker visas last year were for health and care roles (1).

For other jobs the picture is similar. Only 18% of the public would like to reduce the numbers of migrants coming to work as seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers, while 43% would prefer the number to increase (30% say numbers should stay the same); 24% want fewer migrant lorry drivers while 66% would rather numbers stayed the same (35%) or increased (31%); and 24% would prefer fewer migrants coming to work in construction, while 66% think numbers should stay the same (33%) or increase (33%).

The tracker survey also asked about migration for study, as it forms a large proportion of net migration, according to the latest figures. Some 37% of the public are happy for international student numbers to stay the same and 22% would prefer them to increase, while 31% favour reductions.

Download and read the new tracker research here.

(Image by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash)