From David Cameron’s pledge to bring immigration down from “hundreds of thousands” to “tens of thousands”, to Ed Miliband’s declaration last week that Labour “got it wrong” on immigration, it’s clear that politicians of every stripe are looking for ways to speak to the public about this issue.
Here in YouGov’s PoliticsLab, we wanted to hear your views on whether you think immigration is good, bad, or neither for British society as a whole.
The largest proportion of those of you who took part in the discussion said that, on balance, immigration was either fairly bad, or very bad for British society as a whole.
- Those of you who held the view that many immigrants were taking jobs that should go to British people who were already here, and also putting strain on the welfare state at a time when it is already stressed.
- Other participants who said immigration was bad for British society perceived that many immigrants did not do enough to integrate, and were causing societal discord.
A substantially smaller but still significant proportion of participants said that, on balance, immigration was either fairly good, or very good for British society as a whole.
- Those who believed that immigration was a good thing said that it made Britain a more diverse and interesting place, and that immigrants helped power the economy.
A small proportion of you said that immigration was neither totally good nor totally bad for British society.
- Those in the ‘neither’ camp felt that immigration had positive aspects, but worried that standards had become too lax and as a result, suggested that immigration had got ‘out of control’.
And when we invited panellists to also remark on the nature of the public debate on immigration in the UK – that is, whether they thought it balanced, unbalanced, or non-existent...
- The largest proportion of participants – both those who view the issue positively or negatively – said the public debate about immigration was unbalanced
- Many of you told us you felt the public debate about immigration had been non-existent
- And a small proportion of you told us you thought the debate was balanced, with both sides getting a chance to express their views.
We heard interesting and spirited opinions on both sides of the issue. Read the range of responses below:
We asked: Do you think, on balance, that recent immigration has been good or bad for British society as a whole?
“Too many immigrants living on our welfare system, with lack of powers to remove illegals. I lost my job because my employer took on non-EU workers at slave rates” Harry, Glasgow
“Whilst there should be an opportunity for those seeking genuine asylum or looking to engage in employment, it seems this opportunity has been used by too many to take advantage of our welfare state. This has created opposition to those who genuinely come to this country to seek work and refuge ,as many now view them as people who abuse the welfare state” Anon
“The government states that it has been good as immigrants do lower paid work that our society doesn't want to do. Yet we have many unemployed, especially amongst the young with no work experience. The British young should be doing these jobs” Penny P, Essex
“We have nearly 3-million unemployed; we don't need immigrants, we need to get those already here working” Ian H, Warlingham
“ “It has adversely affected work opportunities, schooling for British children, put strains on the NHS, and affected housing priorities, but most importantly it has involved the UK tax payer in a burden that it cannot afford” Wudwurks, Northants
“It has not been controlled sensibly, therefore the number who have entered in order to benefit only from our welfare state has had a bad impact. Those people of our own disadvantaged society feel greatly wronged when they experience outsiders taking preference on homes, and in some cases jobs” Brenda S, Torquay
“People just come here because they know that our government will pay out for them to live an easy life on benefits – it’s shocking! I know of a family who moved here, never worked, and were given council housing and benefits to live off. Meanwhile, I (and every other tax-payer) pay all this tax that we hardly benefit from – I think it's disgusting!” Cara, Cornwall
PERCEPTION: Many immigrants do not properly integrate into British society, which causes social unrest
“Those unprepared for social integration with British communities have been given free entry to the UK, which has in turn led to their segregation from most of society and raised socio-economic problems as a result” N, London
“I work around Birmingham on a day-to-day basis, and nearly every day I come across sectors of the community that don't speak English, don't know our customs … . There is little or no social integration outside their communities and this breeds distrust” Scott, Staffordshire
“It has led to a fracturing of society; it is hard for local communities to get together when there are many languages being spoken other than English” C, Cardiff
“The less British people we have in our country means we start to lose our identity as their cultures start to dominate in our towns and cities, rather than coming to our country and taking on our beliefs and culture” Anon
“How can a person who cannot speak and understand basic English be of any benefit to society?” Roy G, Lancashire
“Segregation and ghettoization are becoming worse” Anon
“The way that shops and other services have been changed to deal with the influx has impacted on our own traditions and values” A, Scotland
“Immigration has added new elements to British society that have enhanced our culture. In addition, the vast majority of immigrants are decent, hardworking people who contribute greatly to the British economy” Gareth, Birkenhead
“Immigrants have been vital for increasing employment numbers for important jobs with low employee numbers, such as nursing. By allowing migrants to learn skills and upgrade their own jobs, we can increase the British economy. Immigration has given the UK an opportunity to explore many aspects of other cultures including food, fashion, religion, festivals, traditions and music” Anon
“Immigration is essential for Britain in so many ways. To mention a few: the vast majority of immigrants are in fact students who bring money into the education system, as well as local economies in university towns, not to mention their ideas and talents. Free movement of people allows an efficient and meritorious labour market, and it allows British employers to get the skilled people they need” Ben W, Bury
“Immigration has led to jobs being filled and taxes paid by low skilled to high-skilled backgrounds. It is those high-skilled workers that contribute a significant amount to the Treasury, and so has not been the problem as depicted by government and media. There is a significant number of low-skilled workers, all of which would also pay into the tax system, but with a shortage of jobs here, it's very competitive” Anon
“Without immigration we would live in a bland society” Anon
“Immigration brings numerous benefits to society, including diversity of opinion, understanding, experience and skills, and a rich and interesting culture. It is therefore positive in cultural, economic and societal terms” FS, London
“It has allowed people to enter the country and work and pay taxes. Many of the jobs British people would not do, and prefer to use benefits instead. Also, it allows us all to know different cultures and mix together, which breaks down stereotypes and barriers” Luisa, Bristol
“An increase in multiculturalism is only a good thing for British society, and will hopefully lead to less racism and more equality between different races and cultures” Jenny, London
“I do not have a problem with immigration. I have a problem with illegal immigrants who commit crimes and who, for one reason or another, are unable to be deported to their home countries. The government needs to get a grip on all illegal immigrants who are taking advantage of taxpayers. I also think immigrants should be speaking passable English and integrating into society as a whole” Anon
“I think that the British people make a big deal about immigration affecting jobs, when in truth the unemployed British people (as a whole) would feel these jobs 'beneath them' and would not apply for them in any event – they'd stay on jobseeker's allowance instead because the benefit system is too comfortable. That said, I do think we practically need to put some form of cap on immigration, otherwise it will add further stress to our public services, which are already suffering cuts. The problem with this is Europe, as EU residents enjoy freedom of movement and EU immigration cannot (on my understanding) be capped without going back on EU treaties already ratified by us” Anon
“I believe that we are multicultural society and immigration is good because many businesses could not operate without immigrant workers. However, I worry that some immigrants are exploited and I feel that there should be more integration” Tracy, Cornwall
“Immigration has gone unchecked for quite some time. Most immigrants do have a positive effect on society. But, immigrants do need to be checked or vetted before entry. When immigrants break British laws repeatedly, they need to be removed from the country. Immigrants should not be allowed to come to this country and then claim that the British way of life (or its laws) are an affront to them or their beliefs. People should integrate into British society, take the positives from it and look to themselves on how they could enhance it” Douglas M, London
“We need a certain amount of immigration; first of all, it helps to plug gaps in employee skills market, and secondly, it adds to the general make-up and diversity of the UK. Unfortunately, recent governments have not maintained enough control on the influx of foreigners” Nigel, Holmfirth
“Immigration can be a good thing when controlled. So long as the numbers of people coming into the UK do not spiral out of control, then immigration brings business and diversity to our nation. It's only when numbers reach crazy proportions that there is an economic crisis, as all of the UK's money is not staying in the UK, it is being sent to other countries. I like having people of all nationalities here, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere. The amount of people allowed to come here should be capped and border defences should be tougher to stop illegal immigrants from coming in and ruining it for the immigrants who go through the proper channels” Emma W, Hartlepool
We asked: In general, how balanced, if at all, do you think the public debate on immigration has been so far?
“People know that many tens of thousands of foreigners have come in, legally and illegally. Stories about them getting housing and other benefits without working or contributing to the economy. Lawbreakers and inciters of hatred against the British not being deported because of soft ‘Human Rights’ issues. All these have contributed to an up-swell of resentment against immigrants, so that people look mainly at the ‘cons’ and not the ‘pros’ of allowing in immigrants” Brenda H, Wigan
“The past Labour Government made it quite clear that all who oppose immigration are to be considered like the BNP, which is a very unfair view” Anon
“People with an axe to grind seem to get headlines in the press – there hasn't been a fair debate. Some of the media seems convinced that some immigrants have a bad effect on society” Anon
“We have to be so politically correct all the time” Anon
“Only seeing a skewed view of the downside; having too many people seeking too few jobs, but does not take into account that the British people believe they are too good to do those jobs, or are better on benefits and will not earn enough” SamMo, Manchester
“We were accused that if we were saying anything about immigration we were being racist” Martyn O, Doncaster
“I think tabloid newspapers have served to heighten anxieties about 'the other', skewing the debate and making people feel threatened by immigrants. Fear is an enormous motivation” Anon
“In our society many people seem overzealous when it comes to identifying racism and hence criticisms to immigration are often withheld or dismissed as racist. As a result debate on immigration seems to be unbalanced, as those against it are often not given the chance to have their views heard” Anon
“Very little distinction is made between immigration and asylum. No discussion has been held about the influx of people with cultural and religious beliefs that are completely alien to the UK, populations that include substantial minorities who change the nature of our country and so cause major dissent” David, Cambridge
“There doesn't seem to be a tolerance with those who say they want to discuss immigration or have influence over migration. Too often it seems that to discuss immigration is seen as being intolerant and against immigration altogether. Think of Mr Brown and his 'bigot' remark” Anon
“People cannot speak up about this without being branded racist. In general, the normal person is not racist but extremely concerned to see the major problems this has thrown up without EVER being voted on or mentioned in election manifestos” Anon
“Voices from actual migrants have been rarely heard” Anon
“There is a very small number, if any, publication and media which do not take the excessively anti-immigration view, with mostly only rhetoric to back up their 'arguments'” Alastair, Scotland
“There is no debate! The irritating left wingers seem to dominate the media. No one ever stands up and says what most people think: ‘we do not like immigration’” Anon
“From what I've seen, supporters of both sides, including fringe ideas, have been given a platform to get their views to the public” Francis, London
“I think public debate has shown both negative and positive sides to immigration” Anon
“Politicians and spokesmen have been able to put both sides across. However, the everyday man is definitely against immigration” Penny P, Essex
“Both the benefits and downsides have been discussed. The main imbalance is that people are afraid to address all the negative aspects of Islam because they are afraid of being classed as bigoted” John, Edinburgh
“The reports I have seen have presented arguments for and against in a non-biased manner” Misha, Blackpool