Media Release

Politicians need to be braver about explaining the cost of reducing immigration

Only a quarter of voters support big cuts in immigration after they are faced with the economic consequences of keeping foreign workers out of Britain, new research shows today.

Only 21 per cent of voters back cutting net migration to tens of thousands if – as a Government review has suggested – the costs would include a higher state pension age.

Similarly small numbers – 24 per cent and 21 per cent – of voters say that higher taxes or bigger cuts in public spending are a price worth paying for lower immigration, which heavily suggests that public opinion on immigration may more complex than it first appears.

The findings, which challenge the belief of some politicians that voters overwhelmingly back lower migration regardless of the economic impact,  come in Opinium polling for the Social Market Foundation, a centrist think-tank.

The SMF said the findings show that British attitudes on migration can shift significantly if politicians show more “candour and courage” in explaining the costs of restrictive immigration policies.

James Kirkup, SMF director and a former Telegraph political editor, said:

“Privately, many senior politicians – including members of Theresa May’s Cabinet – accept the evidence that restrictive immigration policies could do real economic harm to British households. But they don’t say so publicly, because they think voters are implacably opposed to immigration.

“In fact, voters are open to a sensible debate about immigration. If politicians are a bit braver and more candid about the economic costs of big immigration cuts, the balance of opinion will tip in favour of sensible policies that keep the UK economy open and make Britain better off.”

Adam Drummond, Senior Research Manager & Partner at Opinium, commented:

“Views are more nuanced than a simple complaint that numbers are too high. Central to the debate is the tension between wanting to reduce net immigration and an unwillingness to take the economic hit that this would cause. In part this is because many do not accept that this tension exists.

“Although research shows that the average immigrant pays more in taxes than they consume in services, 52% believe that the opposite is true.

“With such misperceptions so widespread, and immigration the key factor in determining Britain’s direction post-Brexit, it is more important than ever that we have an informed debate rather than one fuelled by myths and stereotypes.”




  • A briefing on the polling is attached to this release.
  • About the Social Market Foundation:

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is an independent, non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets. The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.

  • Interviews/media enquiries:

Please contact Mercedes Broadbent, SMF Communications Manager on (0)207 222 7060/


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