NEARLY two-thirds of British people believe immigrants from within the European Union should face a three-year wait 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 nearly one-quarter of British people said the main reason immigrants come to Britain is to claim benefits.

Aa 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 also recorded - from 40 per cent in 2003 to 27% now.

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The survey of more than 3000 Britons is published after ­unprecedented success for anti-EU party Ukip at recent local and European elections presented major challenges for all three major political parties.

While based on UK-wide responses, a recent study here suggested Scots share concerns around the issues of immigration typically associated with parts of England and Wales.

The survey by pollsters ­Survation for Dundee University last month revealed six out of 10 people say benefits should only be available to those who have lived in the UK for at least five years.

It also revealed that nearly seven out of 10 Scots back stricter immigration controls, while just over half want international aid budgets to be cut.

Elsewhere in the Social ­Attitudes survey, some 95 per cent told the survey to be "truly British" you must be able to speak English, while 74 per cent said it 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.

"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 per cent 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 per cent - think the main reason immigrants come to Britain is to work, according to the survey, but nearly 24 per cent 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 per cent in 2013, up from 37 per cent in 2003 - think that immigrants increase crime rates.

The survey also found those who better off and better educated are more positive about immigration than the rest of the population, with 60 per cent of graduates believing immigration benefits Britain economically, compared with 17 per cent of those with no qualifications.

There is also a geographical divide, with 54 per cent of Londoners taking the view immigration is good for the economy compared with 28 per cent of people around the rest of the country. In determining whether someone is "truly British", 77 per cent said you must have lived in Britain for most of your life, 51 per cent said it is important to have British ancestry, while 24 per cent said you need to be Christian.