• 29 Jan 2018

National Conversation on Immigration

Jill Rutter, Director of Strategy and Relationships, British Future

British Future and HOPE not hate have teamed up to engage the public in a debate about the future of immigration policy. To inform the Home Affairs Committee’s Immigration Inquiry, they have published an interim report sharing their findings. Jill Rutter, Director of Strategy and Relationships at British Future, explains more below.

Over the last 15 years, immigration has grown significantly as an issue of public concern in the UK. At the same time, both civil society and business voices have expressed dissatisfaction with the direction of current policy, on work visas and refugee protection, for example. Leaving the EU will mean significant changes to the UK’s immigration policy. This ‘reset’ moment is an opportunity to set in place an immigration system that works for business and the NHS, protects refugees and also secures greater public support. But this support will not be won without engaging the public in a debate about the future direction of immigration policy. This is why the think tank, British Future and the campaigning group, Hope not hate to involve the public in this debate, through the National Conversation on Immigration.

Funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the National Conversation on Immigration will visit 60 different towns and cities across the UK. In each location we meet local stakeholders – the local authority, business leaders and civil society organisations – and then run a separate citizens’ panel made up of people recruited to be representative of their local area. We also have an open online survey and later in 2018 we will undertake a nationally representative poll of 4,000 people. Our findings go to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which itself is looking at future immigration policy and how we might move to a consensus on this issue.

This week we released our half-way report drawing from our first 30 visits and published alongside the first report of a Home Affairs Committee’s Immigration Inquiry. We have found that most of the public are ‘balancers’, seeing both pressures and gains from immigration. They are not anti-migrant, but seek reassurance that people coming to Britain will make a contribution and integrate into the local community.

As well as some common issues there are significant differences from place-to-place: people view immigration through its impact on the place where they live. If local pressures – such as those on housing or school places – are not managed, arguments about migrants’ economic contribution will not shift public opinion. Social integration matters, too. Where residents have positive social contact with migrants, they are able to base their opinions on these social interactions, rather than what they read online and in the tabloid media.

Over the next six months we will finish our visits and produce a final report. We will then work on turning our recommendations into real social change. Getting integration right locally is key to securing consensus on the direction of immigration policy and this will be a focus of our advocacy.

Some will say what we have done hands policy-making to the mob and that such a conversation will give undue weight to those who shout the loudest. But we have shown that another way is possible and have given the unheard majority a chance to have their say on an issue of the highest public salience, on which they currently feel ignored. We want the Government to take forward what have done and run its own National Conversation on Immigration. We think that this will help restore trust in the immigration system, but it will so restore people’s faith in the moderation of their fellow citizens.


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