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18 May 2020

Two-thirds of Britons value 'low-skilled' workers more since Covid-19 crisis

Those working in essential services such as care homes are valued more

Home Office

Two-thirds of the British public (64%) agree that the coronavirus crisis has made them value the role of so-called “low-skilled” workers in essential services such as care homes, transport and shops more than they did before.


Just 9% disagree, according to new ICM polling for the independent thinktank British Future and the Policy Institute at King’s College London. 2,000 adults aged 18+ in Britain were polled between 15 and 17 May for the survey.


70% of people also agree that “the coronavirus crisis shows how important a contribution immigration makes in staffing our essential services like the NHS,” while 8% disagree.


And the public feel that some lower-paid migrant workers doing “important jobs” – such as care workers – should be exempt from the salary threshold that forms part of new government immigration rules being debated in parliament today.


The government has proposed a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 per year that migrants must earn in order to get a visa to work in the UK. This was revised down from an initial proposal of £30,000.


The new ICM poll finds that 61% of the public agree that “the government should make some exceptions for people moving to the UK to do important jobs that need doing, such as nurses and care workers.”


By contrast, 26% of people agreed with an opposing statement that “the government should set the salary threshold and not allow anyone to move to the UK to work on a lower salary, regardless of the job they are doing.”


Sunder Katwala, Director of independent thinktank British Future, said:

“There is strong public recognition of the role played in the COVID-19 crisis by lower-paid frontline workers, including migrant workers in the NHS and beyond.


“So we may hear a more balanced tone in today’s parliamentary immigration debate as politicians catch up. Crude references to so-called ‘low-skilled’ migrants will sound out-of-step with voters.


“Much of this public support for migrant contribution, particularly for health and care workers, was already there before the pandemic. Attitudes to immigration have been getting more positive over recent years.


“Public attitudes are pragmatic about how to balance control and contribution. The Government will need to strike the right balance too – and accept that people’s value isn’t determined by their salary level.”

Asked which jobs people should be allowed to move to the UK to do on a salary of less than £25,600, over half of the public support nurses (59%) and care workers (55%) being exempted from the salary threshold

The findings are broadly consistent with January ICM research published earlier this March in the report  The reset moment: immigration in the new parliament  by British Future and the Policy Institute at King’s College London.

It found that the immigration debate had become less heated, with the issue no longer top-of-mind for most voters. Subsequent research has noted a further fall in the salience of immigration during the Covid-19 crisis.

The survey was commissioned by British Future and the Policy Institute at King’s College London and conducted by ICM Unlimited. The research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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