Bishop: Cameron has betrayed Easter

David Cameron and the other two party leaders have gone against the message of Holy Week by scapegoating immigrants, a bishop said today.

The comment comes ahead of a major speech on immigration from the prime minister tomorrow in which he will insist foreign nationals pay for GP appointments and be resident two years before they can access social housing.

"Public fears around immigration are like fears around crime. They bear little relationship to the actual reality," David Walker, the bishop of Dudley, told the Observer.

"The tone of the current debate suggests that it is better for ten people with a legitimate reason for coming to this country to be refused entry than for one person to get in who has no good cause. It is wholly disproportionate as a response.

"It is especially galling in Holy Week, when Christians are remembering how Jesus himself became the scapegoat in a political battle, to see politicians vying with each other in just such a process."

The Cameron speech follows a Nick Clegg announcement that he would scrap the party's commitment to an amnesty for illegal immigrants and try to introduce a bond for visitors from high-risk countries.

Earlier this month, Ed Miliband tried to move on from Labour's record on immigration by pledging more English lessons and a crack down on unscrupulous employers.

All three parties are trying to alleviate public concerns around immigration ahead of an expected influx of Bulgarians and Romanians later this year.

Leaders were also spooked by the surge of Ukip at the Eastleigh by-election, where the party used a strong anti-immigration message to pip the Tories to second place.

Cameron's plans would see statutory guidance issued to local councils demanding people live in the local area for two to five years before they are allowed on the waiting list for social housing.

There would be exceptions for UK nationals who have moved or because of family breakdowns, in addition to the pre-existing rules for the armed forces.

Local authorities are already free to set their own qualification criteria although many chose not to do so.

Experts say the pressure on social housing from migrants is heavily overstated. At present just one in ten social houses go to migrants.

But Cameron is under pressure to ratchet up the rhetoric on immigration from his MPs as they evaluate the threat to their right flank from Ukip.

Priti Patel said the PM need to talk tough to "win back public confidence" while Stewart Jackson said "people will only be welcome if they make a positive financial contribution".