The latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey is out, and the findings – for 2017 – make for interesting reading.
There is increasing support for more spending on public services, especially the NHS; a growing majority think employers have a responsibility to pay a living wage; and concern about climate change and automation is surprisingly low, given the regular scare stories about both.
But perhaps most fascinating is the chapter on attitudes towards the EU and immigration.
Paradoxically, while the survey notes that “there is little sign here of greater optimism about the economic consequences of Brexit”, support for leaving the EU has actually risen since before the referendum. While the uncertainty of the last two years has not gone unnoticed by the public, it hasn’t translated into a tsunami of europhilic sentiment, as some anti-Brexit campaigners would like to imply.
There’s another myth resolutely busted by this survey: Brexit has not made Britain more hostile to immigration. Strikingly, 47 per cent of people in 2017 perceived immigration as positive for the UK economy, up 14 points from 2015, while only 17 per cent viewed it negatively (with the rest neutral). While this is part of an upward trend since 2011, the size of this leap is staggering.
That is not to say that the Brexit vote had nothing to do with anxiety over immigration – we know from other research that control over borders was a key concern. But the public is not as simple-minded as some politicians believe: people see the benefits of migration to the economy, and for the most part do not buy into the rhetoric voiced by a small but vocal minority who scapegoat foreigners for Britain’s economic challenges.
The government should take note. Refreshingly, home secretary Sajid Javid appears to have a good handle on the situation, hinting to the Home Affairs Committee yesterday that the Conservatives’ target to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands (an unrealistic and unnecessary goal) could be scrapped. It should be.
One can only hope that the embattled Prime Minister, who appears to have survived the turmoil of the last few days (at least for now), takes note, both of Javid’s clear-headedness and of these findings.
The BSA survey has one last kernel of optimism: trust in one another is the highest it has ever been. Despite the increasingly divisive and adversarial nature of our politics, it seems that 54 per cent of us believe that people can always or usually be trusted – another thing politicians can learn from the people they are meant to represent.