England has become a more tolerant society than it was five years ago - but nearly half (43%) of people think Muslims are "completely different" to themselves, according to a major new report.

The country's attitudes to immigration have softened and there is growing support for greater protection to be given to religious and racial minorities, according to the report on English attitudes by the charity Hope Not Hate.

However, Muslims are regarded as a "uniquely different and problematic" religious minority, with 45% of those surveyed saying they believed Muslims cause problems in Britain, while nearly two thirds (59%) blame them for problems around the world.

While this is far higher than for other minority religious groups, it represents a softening of attitudes compared to 2011 when the survey was last carried out.

Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate, said: "The more positive and tolerant attitudes towards immigration and a multicultural society might surprise people, especially given the refugee crisis and threat of Islamist extremism, but it is reflective of an increasing optimism about the state of the British economy, changing demographics and increasing interaction amongst different ethnic groups, especially the young.

"Our 2011 report showed clearly that economic pessimism was the key driver for fear and hate of the outsider.

"Our 2016 report shows that while many people are still struggling, there is increased optimism about the future and this is leading to more relaxed attitudes to newcomers.

"However, there is no room for complacency. A quarter of the population are very hostile to immigration and multiculturalism and far bigger numbers share some economic anxieties about further immigration and cultural concerns about integration and assimilation."

Half of those surveyed believe immigration has been good for the country - up from 40% in 2011.

And the English "tribe" most positive towards immigration and multiculturalism has more than doubled from 8% of the population in 2011 to 18% in 2016, while the group most hostile has shrunk from 13% to 8%, the report found.

But the survey still highlighted fears over immigration and welfare and integration.

Half (51%) of those polled said they were concerned immigrants receive welfare benefits without paying in enough.

And the overwhelming majority (79%) support measures to ensure all Muslim immigrants speak English, while 70% support the active promotion of British values in Muslim communities.

The English believe it is their love of tradition and the monarchy, and their eccentric habits including an ironic sense of humour, an obsession with the weather and a love of queuing, which separate them from other countries.

Meanwhile, those from ethnic minority backgrounds place greater emphasis on political values such as respect, tolerance and human rights.

The George Cross flag has become a less contentious symbol since 2011, and now the most common reaction to it is "indifference", the wide-ranging report found.

And as the European Union referendum draws near, the report suggested many voters are "still up for grabs". Some oppose EU immigration but support the social and economic stability it provides, while the outlook of others is defined by their economic anxiety, the report found.

And in politics the survey suggested problems lie ahead for the Labour Party as it struggles to appeal to its traditional working class base while, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, it moves to a "more open multicultural position".

The Conservatives are the party "with most to cheer out of this survey" as the proportion of multiculturalists in it has increased, meaning there is scope for the more moderate wing of the party to assert itself, the report found.