Traditional Labour Party supporters may drift towards populist parties because they believe politicians do not understand how they feel about immigration, a new report has revealed.

Poorer people in particular think they have little control over immigration and care about community and identity as much, or more than, they do about economics, the study found.

The report titled "Social and political attitudes of people on low incomes", researched before the Brexit vote and released on Thursday 15 December, was carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The report's authors, including Nancy Kelley from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), found that only 6% of people asked felt they had any control over immigration.

She said politicians can struggle to understand immigration concerns by always focusing on the economy, when many were more interested in culture and identity.

"In a sense if you're concerned about immigration, then experts arguing that it's good for the economy is so missing the point," said Kelley, according to The Guardian. "That's not the debate you're wanting to have. What you're wanting to say is 'I find this psychologically troubling in some way' – how it's making people feel."

Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent, issued a stark warning for traditional parties that unless they listened to voters' concerns, they would suffer in the next election, with Labour being particularly vulnerable.

Senior Labour figures including Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott have repeatedly backed freedom of movement but if they continued to do so, said Prof Goodwin, "The left in British politics will lose that debate quite heavily."

refugee children
A child at a camp of makeshift shelters for migrants and asylum-seekers near Dunkirk, France Yves Herman/Reuters

Immigration was at the "front and centre of the Leave vote," said Goodwin. "We should accept that most people want limited or controlled immigration policy, in my view".

"That is the new post-referendum reality of British politics and that is why in particular, I would suggest, the Labour Party is getting hammered repeatedly on this issue. Because adhering to what voters perceive to be an open doors policy is exactly what many Labour voters do not want to see," he said.