SRtRC analysis of press coverage related to British Social Attitudes survey results
“Currently there is little evidence that benefit provision encourages migrant inflows or imposes significant costs on the British state, and several academic analyses of the topic have concluded that migrants are not a drain on welfare resources"
Natcen, British Social Attitudes Survey
The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) today released the full report into its survey of British Social Attitudes.
The survey, which aims to capture the attitudes and perceptions of what it's like to live in Britain and how people think Britain is run. The British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey has been carried out annually since 1983 with over 90,000 people have taken part in the study so far. 3,000 people took part in the 2013 survey.
Towards the end of May a headline statistic from the BSA was released that suggested around 30% of people polled described themselves as either ‘very’ or ‘a little prejudiced’. UK newspapers are covering the statistics from the full survey in a variety of ways.
The Daily Mail is just one of the news outlets covering the release of the report and its key findings today, running with the headline ‘Immigrants must speak English and should have access to benefits restricted, say Britons: Opinion poll finds 95% believe the language is cornerstone of Britishness’.
The two key statistics that the article is focused on include one from the National Identity section of the report; that “95% think being able to speak English is important for being “truly British” (NatCen) and one from the chapter on Immigration; namely that “77 per cent of people want immigration reduced “a little” or “a lot” (NatCen).
The study shows that 95% of people believe that being able to speak English is a “very important” or “fairly important” attribute contributing towards the idea of ‘true Britishness’; an idea in itself which is very difficult to define. Alongside the ability to speak English, against which no acceptable level of fluency is defined’ is criteria including to have been born in Britain, to have British citizenship, to have lived in Britain for most of one’s life and to feel British.
Nowhere in the study is the word cornerstone used, and the addition of term must, as in 95 per cent of population think people must speak English to be British, is also an example of the editorial licence used by the Daily Mail.
The article does not include some of the positive attitudes and perceptions recorded by the study, including the 32% of people who agreed that Immigrants are generally good for Britain’s economy (NatCen); an increase of 11% compared with attitudes captured 10 years ago, and the 40% of people who believe that Immigrants improve British society by bringing new ideas and cultures, and increase of 7% when compared to the attitudes recorded from the previous decade.
This despite the fact that these two statements represent the largest change in attitudes and perceptions captured within the section of the study on the relationship between National Identity and attitudes towards immigration.
The Express coverage of the story focuses on ‘EU migrants claiming benefits’. “Almost two thirds of Britons believe EU migrants should be forced to wait three years before they can claim benefits”, the story says, before also stating that one in four people think immigrants only head to Britain to ‘abuse it’s generous welfare system’.
This is misleading. NatCen explain in the Survey that “concerns about ‘benefit tourism’ are strongly concentrated among those groups with the most negative views about migrants. Only a small minority of those who are neutral or positive see this as the primary motive for migrants.”
In fact when NatCen asked respondents to a test version of the survey for the most common reasons for migration to Britain the response ‘to claim benefits’ was not included, but was put forward as a reason, “Initially we offered as possible responses the motives recorded in official statistics – work (split into EU and non-EU), study, spousal reunion and asylum. However, when testing the question prior to the main survey we found that many people favoured a motive that was not on our list: the desire to claim welfare benefits.”
When the survey was carried out the response “coming to claim benefits” was included in half the sample. 24% of respondents offered the option chose it while 8% chose it when not offered as a response.
Those who had an overall negative view of immigration overwhelmingly chose it is as the common reason for migration to Britain. 55% of those with a strongly negative view and 25% of those with a somewhat negative view selected it when it was offered as an option.
The BSA survey says that welfare tourism was clearly an issue at the time they conducted the survey citing the “intensive discussion” about the ‘lifting of restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian migration to Britain’.
However, NatCen also states “Currently there is little evidence that benefit provision encourages migrant inflows or imposes significant costs on the British state, and several academic analyses of the topic have concluded that migrants are not a drain on welfare resources as they are less likely to claim benefits than native born Britons, and more likely to work (Vargas-Silva, 2013; Dustmann and Frattini, 2013).
According to this report, “the UK is the only EU country to have a lower unemployment rate for migrants – 7.5% - than nationals 7.9%. Of those migrants who are unemployed, an even lower proportion – 1% -, actually claim unemployment benefits, compared to UK nationals.”
The Telegraph leads with headline ‘Politicians blamed for hostility to migrants’. Their story focuses on the concluding paragraphs of this section of the BSA, the ‘political dilemma of immigration’.
The Telegraph also claim that “the news led to warnings on Monday that a failure to slow the pace of immigration to Britain will increase racism.”
The BSA conclusion focuses on advice for policy makers “This is the political dilemma of immigration: there is a clear, and intense, demand for action on the issue from one section of the electorate, a demand politicians ignore at their peril. Yet responding to the concerns of the voters worried about immigration today risks alienating the rising sections of the electorate whose political voice will become steadily louder in elections to come.”
The Telegraph asserts that “a decade of mass migration” is responsible for the negative perceptions of immigration impact on the economy and ‘British culture’ and the survey report mentions the “persistent public anxiety” about immigration.
Much of Show Racism the Red Card’s educational work with young people is centred around the development of attitudes and perceptions and creating an understanding of how these concepts help to shape a person’s world view. The campaign aims to capacitate young people with the critical thinking skills required to analyse and in some cases deconstruct these attitudes and perceptions; which although often feel like a reality, are sometimes not based on facts.
Similar attitudes and perceptions on the ethnic and religious make-up of the UK’s population where shown to be largely out of sync with the reality in an Ipsos MORI survey from 2013 which found that the majority of those surveyed largely over estimated the proportion of the country’s population which are non UK born, and the proportion of the country who are of Muslim faith.
The results of the study into British Social Attitudes by the National Centre for Social Research contain many interesting attitudes and perceptions that warrant further exploration, however it is essential that such analysis is framed under the recognition that these attitudes and perceptions are not always representative of the reality.
The “intensive discussions” around Romanian and Bulgarian migrants’ access to Britain provoked an unbalanced perception of ‘welfare tourism’. The BSA survey cites that those with ‘greater knowledge of Britain’s restrictive points system may encourage more positive views of the migrants admitted under this regime’, for example.
Show Racism the Red Card believes that education is important in creating a factual and balanced immigration debate. Media and politicians can be responsible for driving this debate, but only a discourse which is driven by facts can have a positive impact on British social attitudes about immigration.
Why not take a look at our immigration myth-buster? Developed in partnership with the trade union, UNISON.