Dissatisfaction with government on immigration at highest level since 2015

69% of the public say they are dissatisfied and just 9% satisfied with the way government is dealing with immigration according to the latest round of our immigration tracker with British Future.

The author(s)
  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs, Ipsos North
  • Holly Day Public Affairs
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Public dissatisfaction with the way the current government is dealing with  immigration is at its highest level since before the EU referendum, according to the latest findings of an authoritative survey that has tracked public attitudes to immigration since 2015. 

Some 69% of the public say they are dissatisfied and just 9% satisfied, according to the Immigration Attitudes Tracker from Ipsos and British Future – the highest level of unhappiness in the tracker’s history. The survey was conducted online with 3,000 adults across Britain between 17 – 28 February 2024.

Dissatisfaction with the way the current government is dealing with immigration has increased steadily since 2020 to its highest level in the series - 69% are dissatisfied and 9% are satisfied - Immigration Tracker Survey 2024

Only 16% of current Conservative supporters – and just 8% of those who voted Conservative in 2019 – are satisfied with the government’s handling of immigration. 55% of current Conservative supporters and 71% of 2019 Conservative voters are dissatisfied. Some 10% of Labour supporters say they are satisfied, while 72% are not.

The number one reason for dissatisfaction is ‘not doing enough to stop channel crossings’, chosen by 54% of those who are dissatisfied. Half of those who are dissatisfied (51%) say it is because ‘immigration numbers are too high’. However 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 current Labour supporters who are dissatisfied with the government on immigration, ‘Creating a negative or fearful environment for migrants’ (42%) is as important as ‘Not doing enough to stop channel crossings’ (41%).

There is a significant difference, too, in how important immigration is to different voters. Some 53% of current Conservative supporters say it is important in deciding how they will vote in the coming election, their number three issue after the NHS (57%) and cost of living (55%). For Labour voters it ranks 12th, with half as many saying it is important in deciding their vote (27%).

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 current Conservative supporters (72%) want immigration numbers reduced (17% want it to stay the same and 9% want it to increase). But most Labour supporters don’t, preferring immigration numbers to either remain the same (32%) or increase (20%), although 40% do want reductions.

However, the public finds 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 (1). 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.

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

There is widespread public dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of immigration, but for different reasons. Many Conservatives want tougher action to match tough words, while Labour supporters want more compassion alongside control. 
There’s a gulf in how much immigration matters to how people will vote in the coming election.  For Conservatives it’s the number three issue after the NHS and cost of living; for Labour supporters it doesn’t make the Top Ten. That makes for very different pressures on the two party leaders in the coming campaign.
With migration figures high, there is more support for reducing immigration. Yet while seven in ten Conservatives want reductions, most Labour supporters don’t. And across political divides people struggle to identify what immigration they would cut – with less than three in ten supporting cuts to many flows and a majority still wanting more health and care workers coming to the UK.

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

There has been a change in overall public attitudes towards immigration over the last two years, as Britons have become more negative – though still more positive than in 2015.  However many of the underlying dilemmas remain the same, with overall people preferring more control, more accountability to Parliament, and being open to migration for work in a range of specific sectors such as health and social care – and views varying according to the exact policy in question.
In an election year, it is also clear that there is a difference in attitudes across the political spectrum.  Conservative supporters are most negative towards immigration, but are also critical of the government, despite their support for policies such as Rwanda.  Labour is more trusted on immigration than the Conservatives, especially among its own supporters, but there are hardly high levels of faith in Keir Starmer’s party.  Immigration is not looking like the most important issue to voters at the ballot box but it could still have a role to play – and whichever party wins will still face a challenge to regain public confidence once the election is over.

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.

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 current Conservative supporters (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 version of the Rwanda policy people prefer. Given three options, 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.” A quarter of people (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”. A further quarter (26%) chose “Do not send anyone to Rwanda, regardless of how they arrived.” (5% chose ‘none of these’, 12% don’t know).

Technical note
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. The survey was conducted in collaboration with British Future with funding from Unbound Philanthropy and the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

The author(s)
  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs, Ipsos North
  • Holly Day Public Affairs

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