The study, carried out by a group of international bodies including the UK's own Barrow Cadbury Trust, found that almost half of Britons think there are "too many foreign-born people in this country". In other European countries this figure averaged three in 10, and in the USA - where there's been a huge amount of anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Tea Party - it was just a quarter.
The FT goes on:
"Britons were also more likely to think foreign arrivals damaged “national culture” [and]some 70 per cent of British people think their government is doing a “poor job” of tackling the issue."So far, so depressing. The interesting stuff is further down, where it becomes clear that, in the FT's own words, public opinion seems "out of step with reality":
"When asked to guess how many people in Britain were foreign-born, the average UK response was three in 10. When told the estimate by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development was in fact just one in 10, more than two-thirds of UK people thought this was either “not many” (36 per cent) or “a lot but not too many” (31 per cent). Just 30 per cent thought it was “too many”. Far more British people than their western counterparts also thought migrants were a burden on public services, even though most research suggests they are in fact a net contributor."But why do so many people overestimate the number of migrants living in this country? The FT isn't afraid to point the finger:
"Immigration experts blame this on the hostility to foreign newcomers espoused by many British newspapers and the fact that the arrivals from eastern Europe rose so rapidly during the middle of the last decade."Virtually every day of the week the likes of the Mail and Express provide a drip-feed of scare stories about immigrants that have, as TabloidWatch, Minority Thought, Angry Mob and the rest of the gang regulalry point out, a relationship to the truth that is tenuous at best.
We're repeatedly told that "you can't talk about immigration" without being called a racist. Yet the taboids talk bollocks about it day after day after day, feeding people lies and distortions that lead to the average Brit overestimating the number of migrants living here by a factor of three. And when people are told the true figure, two-thirds of people think that, actually, that's not too many at all.
Newspapers sell copies by reflecting the views of their readers - the Guardian supports student protesters for the same reason the Express hates people who aren't white. But is it too much to ask for papers to at least base their prejudices in fact?