Britons 'want cut in  immigration'

More than three-quarters of British people want to see a cut in immigration, a survey of social attitudes has revealed.

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A survey found that more than three-quarters of British people want to see a cut in immigration

More than three-quarters of British people want to see a cut in immigration, a survey of social attitudes has revealed.

However, fewer people now than in 2011 think immigration is bad for the economy - 47% in 2013 compared with 52% two years previously, new findings from NatCen Social Research's British Social Attitudes survey found.

The latest results of the survey, which are to be revealed in a BBC Two documentary The Truth About Immigration tonight at 9.30pm, come nearly a week after access restrictions to the UK labour market were lifted for Romanians and Bulgarians.

Penny Young, chief executive at NatCen Social Research, said: "British Social Attitudes shows that public desire for a cut in immigration to the UK had begun to rise even before the restrictions on migrants from Romania or Bulgaria were lifted at the start of the year.

"Moreover, a majority of people who think immigration is good, economically or culturally, for the UK still want to see it cut.

"These findings highlight the complexity of this issue for politicians facing two elections in 18 months and with limited options if they want to attempt to reduce migration from Europe.

"The public broadly agrees that immigration is too high, but there are stark social divisions over the economic and cultural benefits of immigration."

The research shows 5 4% of respondents see immigration as good for the economy and 55% of those who see it is as culturally beneficial also want to see immigration reduced.

The survey also reveals divisions among political party supporters.

Some 40% of Labour party supporters think immigration is bad for the economy but 36% believe it is good for the economy, the research shows, while 40% think immigration is bad for British culture and 41% see it as good for British culture.

Meanwhile, some 52% of Conservatives believe Britain's cultural life is undermined by immigration into the UK compared with 20% of Liberal Democrats.

Immigration is least popular among people with few or no qualifications, NatCen said.

A total of 85% of those with few or no qualifications want to see a decrease, while 88% of people in higher grade manual jobs want a reduction.

In the documentary, presented by political editor Nick Robinson, former Labour ministers reflect on their decision to open the doors to workers from Eastern Europe in 2004, when Poland and seven other countries joined the EU.

Jack Straw, foreign secretary from 2001 to 2006, said: " The predications were completely catastrophic. I mean they were wrong by a factor of ten. On immigration, it was bluntly a nightmare and it got more and more difficult."

"We did get it wrong and I deeply regret it," said Mr Straw. "I regret it because it undermines trust in government, if you're that wrong."

But David Blunkett, home secretary from 2001 to 2004, told the programme he did not regret the decision.

He said: "I'm unapologetic because if you don't have legal managed migration and people don't sign up so they pay national insurance and tax, they'll work illegally."

Theresa May, Home Secretary, told the programme: "I think the problem in the past has been that there's been this general assumption that immigration was always good for the economy.

"I don't think people have looked at it sufficiently closely to be able to recognise the impact it has on members of the public."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "I think there should have been more debate about immigration, I think we should have had a more calm, measured debate and sensible response to people's concerns, but also listening to what those concerns were, listening to people who were worried about jobs or wages or worried about the pace of change.

"And to have that debate about it rather than simply thinking you can't talk about it for fear that that might be the politics of the Right."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage told the programme that he believed that fear of being labelled as a racist has stifled the debate on immigration.

He said: "They tried to rubbish us, they tried to say that anybody that dared to talk about this subject was necessarily a bad person and racist, that was what they tried to do and actually this has been going on ever since (Enoch) Powell's speech."

Mr Farage said he wanted to see a decrease in immigration levels, even it came at the cost of damage to the overall British economy.

The Ukip leader told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "If you said to me 'Would you want to see over the next 10 years a further 5 million people come into Britain and if that happened we would all be slightly richer?', I would say 'Actually, do you know what? I would rather we weren't slightly richer and I would rather we had communities that felt more united and I would rather have a situation where young unemployed British people had a realistic chance of getting a job.'

"So, yes, I do think the social side of this matters more than pure market economics."

Mr Farage said there should be no "open door" for migrants from new EU entrants Bulgaria and Romania, and called for a five-year halt to all immigration by people wishing to settle permanently in the UK.

"Let's be flexible on work permits, let's recognise that we do have some skills shortages in the British economy - which is very much a failure of our education system," he said.

"But in terms of immigration, in terms of people coming to settle, I would suggest that for up to a five-year period we don't have people coming to settle until we sort out the mess."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the Prime Minister was "completely right" to stop migrants claiming benefits for the first three months after they arrive in the UK.

He told LBC 97.3: "We don't want to be slamming up the drawbridge being completely horrible to people.

"If you want to come and work here you can do that but there should be a period before which you can claim all benefits and it seems entirely reasonable to me that they should extend that to two years.

"I think he is right about this business about child benefit. Why should British taxpayers be paying the child benefit of people who may be working in Britain but whose children are living in Poland?"

Mr Johnson said people must be "realistic" about the way Britain acts as a "magnet" for people in countries where benefits are less generous.