New “Life in the UK” test is a cause for concern, says Durham University expert

New “Life in the UK” test is a cause for concern, says Durham University expert

(1 January 2013)

The Government has published a new third edition of the “Life in the UK” test. The test must be passed in order to qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain and British citizenship. There are 24 questions and applicants must provide at least 18 correct answers in 45 minutes.

Dr Thom Brooks, at Durham University, is an expert on citizenship and immigration and a well known critic of the current test. Dr Brooks says: “The test is badly outdated and needs urgent whole scale revision.” One problem is that the current test was published in March 2007. Britain has changed much since. The test has included information about government departments and programmes that no longer exist. While the government has confirmed these questions have been removed, there remain questions about the make-up of Britain’s population based upon census data from 2001. It has been crucial that the test was updated to account for these changes.

A second problem is that the test was too limited. While the textbook includes chapters on British history and basic law, these areas are excluded from the test. The new “Life in the UK” test goes too far to include information about British culture and history at the expense of practical knowledge. Dr Brooks says: “I welcome the inclusion of British culture and history in the test because it is important that prospective citizens demonstrate awareness of Britain’s cultural narrative. But the government goes too far in making this narrative the main subject of the test. Britain will not be more cohesive because more have heard about the Battle of Trafalgar, but rather if future citizens understand better how to participate in daily British life and make a contribution.”

A further problem with the current and future tests is the failure to address the issue of what we expect from new citizens. If the test is meant to be a restrictive barrier, then a greater emphasis on globally well-known historical events and figures in popular culture may make the test easier to pass and so prove counterproductive. But if the test is meant to help form a bridge between present and future citizens, then successive governments have failed to consider whether the test contributes to this goal. To date, persons earning citizenship after successfully completing the “Life in the UK” have not been included in any formal feedback to inform how the test can be improved. Instead, it has been drafted largely in isolation from the people for whom it is designed.

Dr Brooks says: “I am disappointed by the failure to consult more widely with recent immigrants. As an American academic with expertise in this area and who has successfully earned Indefinite Leave to Remain and, more recently, British citizenship, the experience of immigrants like me should be invaluable to informing how the ‘Life in the UK’ test might be better revised. The test will continue to express more the ideology of current governments than meet the needs and demands of the immigrants and the public so long as the voices of all stakeholders are not considered.”