Nearly two-thirds of British people believe immigrants from within the European Union (EU) should wait at least three years before they are allowed to claim welfare benefits, a major survey of social attitudes has shown.
A hardline view of immigrants is revealed in the 31st NatCen Social Research British Social Attitudes survey, in which n early a quarter of British people said the main reason immigrants come to Britain is to claim benefits.
And a considerable drop in the number of people who believe legal immigrants who are not British citizens should have the same legal rights as British citizens was recorded – from 40% in 2003 to 27% now.
The survey of more than 3,000 Britons is published after unprecedented success for anti-EU Ukip at recent local and European elections presented major challenges for all three major political parties.
Elsewhere, some 95% told the survey to be “truly British” you must be able to speak English, while 74% said i t is important to have been born in Britain to be considered British.
Penny Young, chief executive of NatCen Social Research, said: “In an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural country, we might expect people to be more relaxed about what it means to be British, yet the trend is going in the opposite direction.
“It is now harder to be considered British than in the past and one message comes through loud and clear, if you want to be British, you must speak English.
“And as we debate whether Ukip’s vote will hold up in the General Election, British Social Attitudes shows that the public is yet to be convinced that politicians have got a grip on immigration.
“They want tougher rules on benefits and many are unaware of the policies that are in place to control immigration.”
Some 61% of British people think immigrants from the EU should have to wait three years or more before they are allowed to claim welfare benefits.
Prime Minister David Cameron rushed through new measures at the end of last year to ensure EU migrants will be unable to claim out-of-work benefits for their first three months in the UK.
Half of all people – exactly 50% – think the main reason immigrants come to Britain is to work, according to the survey, but nearly 24% think the main reason is to claim benefits – a higher proportion than think they come mainly to study, to join their family or seek asylum.
Those most concerned about immigration are more likely to think that immigrants come to Britain to claim benefits, NatCen said.
More people than a decade ago – 43% in 2013, up from 37% in 2003 – think that immigrants increase crime rates.
The survey also found those who are better off and better educated are far more positive about immigration than the rest of the population, with 60% of graduates believing immigration benefits Britain economically, compared with 17% of those with no qualifications.
There is also a geographical divide, with 54% of Londoners taking the view that immigration is good for the economy compared with 28% of people around the rest of the country.
In determining whether someone is “truly British”, 77% said you must have lived in Britain for most of your life, 51% said it is important to have British ancestry, while only 24% said you need to be Christian to be considered British.