Why do we have a British Citizenship Test?

The UK citizenship was introduced in 2005 in order to address White Working Class concerns over immigration, at least according to one sociologist….

If immigrants to the UK want to claim British Citizenship, then they need to pass a British Citizenship Test.

The test consists of a number of questions on British history, culture, society and politics. If you’d like to try some test questions the Life in the UK Test 2020 has some examples, and if you answer 25 questions it will even tell you whether you’d pass the test!

It mights seem obvious, from a common sense point of view, why we have such a test: surely it is perfectly reasonable that we require potential future citizens to possess a certain level of knowledge about the country the wish to reside in permanently.

However, from a more critical, sociological perspective it is not at all obvious, especially since the test is such recent invention – having been introduced in only 2005, and since some of the questions do seem a little trivial, and don’t necessarily have much to do with ‘Britishness’ at all.

In a recent Thinking Allowed podcast, David Bartram, currently at the University of Leicester, discusses why we have a citizenship test, and what the consequences of it are for the people who take it, among other questions.

What prompted the introduction of this test?.

Bartram notes that there was an increasing interest in the concept of Citizenship in Late 1990s under the Blaire government, but it wasn’t until 2002 that an Act of Parliament was passed, making it a formal requirement for anyone seeking naturalisation in the UK to sit and pass a formal test.

Bartram suggests that the test was introduced as a response to unrest in northern cities in early 2000. The media cast the so call Northern riots, in towns such as Bradford and Oldham in ethnic terms, focussing on mainly Asian Youths being out of control, and being out of control and separate from the rest of ‘us’.

Rather than blaming the native white working class community for these ‘riots’ the media blamed immigrants for failing to integrate properly, and something had to be done to address this situation.

Thus the introduction of the citizenship test, which people first started taking in 2005.

Crucially, Bartram notes that the test was primarily introduced and directed towards an audience of white British natives. It was the government’s way of addressing concerns over immigration, rather than in terms of the positive outcomes for the people who took it.

Some problems with the UK Citizenship Test

The very act of imposing a requirement for a test suggests that those who must take it (i.e. anyone seeking to claim British citizenship) doesn’t initially know enough about the British way of life, it has an immediate stigmatising effect.

Originally the test had some useful questions to help candidates nagivate their way around some of the complexities of life in the uk, but overtime it deteriorated into more and more factoids – such as ‘what year did Richard 3rd die’ – just exactly how knowing the answer is 1485 is supposed to make you a better British citizen is unclear.

The test seems to have a negative impact on Participation in British Life

Bartram uses survey data to demonstrate that those people who have taken the test and passed it have lower levels of participation in British social and political life compared to similar people who had not taken the test.

Participation here is measured by such things as how likely someone is to do voluntary work, among other indicators.

Why is this?

The problem is possible in the nature of the questions about politics – they are about knowing the rules of the game, about obedience, not about rights or political activism, which suggests to the people who take it that just obeying the law is enough to be a British citizen, rather than actively taking part in voluntary or political action.

Relevance to A-level sociology.

This material can be used to criticise the Functionalist view of society consisting of shared values, clearly integration is a problem, and the solution to it isn’t helping.

There’s also some support for the labelling theory of deviance – just be introducing a test, you are stigmatising any potential applicant.

Deported to Death – What happens to Mexican Migrants after Deportation?

What happens to those many thousands of migrants who make it across the Mexican U.S. border, but are later sent back to their countries of origins?

This is the topic which Jeremy Slack, Professor of Geography at the University of Texas, addresses in a recent book: Deported to Death : How Drug Violence is Changing Migration on the US-Mexican Border.

This is a book about people how are out of place, about people trying to claim asylum or people who have been deported – the book aims to humanize these people and get into the experience of what its like for them.

The book uses in-depth qualitative research methods to find out ‘what happens next’ once mexicans have been deported, with Slack using in-depth interviews and hanging-out in places such as Migrant shelters on the Mexican side of the borders.

Slack found that one third of people he interviewed regarded the US as their home. Many of them had put down roots in the US – they had homes, young children, no close contacts in Mexico, and no understanding of the Mexican system, some had been living and working in the U.S. for over a decade.

These people are really victims of a hostile immigration environment in the U.S. Ever since Trump declared a national emergency back in 2019, authorities in the Southern States have ramped up their efforts to deport people.

The number one federal crime for being deported is now ‘immigration offenses’ itself (which doesn’t have to be illegal, or dealt with harshly), the second major reason for deportation is traffic violations – people get caught speeding, for example, the authorities realize they are illegal and they end up in a detention center and deported.

Grey Zones

Once they’ve been deported, deportees enter a sort of ‘Grey Zone’ – they’re in Limbo, as they are regarded as criminals by the Mexican authorities while they try to challenge their deportation and gain the legal right to stay in the United States, which, following the introduction of the Orwellian named ‘Migrant Protection Program’ now has to be done from Mexico, rather than them staying in the States.

It seems like the chances of being granted legal access are slim – They don’t get access to third party rights A third of people interviewed didn’t have access to asylum, no lawyer if you can’t pay.

Some Mexican deportees from the United States become the targets of extreme drug related violence upon their return to Mexico.

Other migrants are subject to kidnappings by the police, with 7% reporting that they’ve been held against their will and subject to forced labour and torture.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This book has clear relevance to Crime and Deviance, especially critical victimology.

The decline of the nation state and the rise of anti-immigration attitudes

Globlisation has undermined the capacity of governments to govern on behalf of their citizens, because governments have generally preferred to do the bidding of Transnational Corporations. This means most countries now have a reduced welfare state, they are able to do less for their citizens. This results in anti-immigration attitudes and policies

Globalisation has undermined the capacity of governments to govern on behalf of their citizens, because governments have generally preferred to do the bidding of Transnational Corporations. This means most countries now have a reduced welfare state, they are able to do less for their citizens.

This in turn has led to citizens demanding that governments tighten border controls to keep other people out, so the declining resources don’t have to be shared with more people.

This is the view of Nira Yuval Davis, Director of the research center on Migration, Refugees and Belonging at the University of East London, expressed in a recent episode of Thinking Allowed on Borders, which aired January 2020.

For the purposes of A-level sociology, some of her comments sound like they’re coming from a broadly Marxist or World Systems Theory viewpoint, expressing a pessimist view of globalisation.

Globalisation, TNCs and Governments….

Davis starts off by pointing out that in the age of Imperialism, border regions were seen as fluid and shifting territories rather than fixed, which makes sense because imperial powers were always looking to expand their borders! The nation state gave birth to a concept of ‘homeland’ which went along with this ‘solidfying’ of borders.

She suggests that with globalisation the idea of borders became less important, with there being a dream of a border less world and global citizenship rights. However, this has never happened: there has always been global inequalities based on which country one originates from.

Governments have found it more and more difficult to govern on behalf of their citizens, but have become increasingly likely to negotiate with transnational corporations, doing the bidding of the international companies rather than acting on behalf of their own citizens.

This has led to a recent process of ‘rebordering’ – as governments can’t control Transnational corporations or the global economy, they shore up their borders to control people-flows, to ensure citizens that they have some measure of control over something!

The demand for governments to ‘defend the borders against foreigners came from below, from ordinary people. This was because neoliberalisation resulted in a shrinking of the welfare state, and hence a demand to limit the benefits to just those who ‘belong’.

Anti-immigrant sentiment: a response to neoliberal globalisation?

As a result of the above borders have spread out both internally and externally:

  • Externally = when someone from India wants to come to the UK, they have their application processed in a UK office in India
  • Internally – with raids on employment offices to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Citizens as informal border guards

This section has interesting links to globalisatsion and the social control aspect of crime and deviance

There is now an increased expectation on citizens to be informal, unpaid, untrained border guards and keep an eye on ‘who really belongs’!

NB it’s very interesting to think about this in the context of Brexit!

In recent decades the government has passed legislation that requires certain types of UK citizen to inform on people they think might be illegal immigrants – lorry drivers for example can be fined over £10K for bringing in illegals, and so are required to check their loads and get people off them before coming into the UK, and landlords are now required to inform the home office if they think illegals are renting from them, or face a fine of several thousands of pounds.

Negative consequences of tightening bordering controls

This requirement of informal policing has led to negative consequences – there has been at least one case of a restaurant being raided, illegals found, a huge fine imposed, and the restaurants reputation ruined, while the immigrants were later released.

And landlords are now discriminating by not renting to people who haven’t been born in the UK.

The irony/ paradox of this is that neoliberalisation requires the free-er movement of people for it to work, so there may even be a longer term economic consequence!

Analyse two ways in which migration has affected household structures (10)

How to get full marks for a 10 mark ‘item’ question in sociology A-level.

This question cam up as part of the families and households option in A level sociology paper 2 (topics in sociology), June 2017.

Item C

In the 1950s, most immigrants into the United Kingdom came from Commonwealth countries such as India and Jamaica. More recently, many immigrants have come from European countries such as Poland. May immigrants are young adults seeking work. 

These migration patterns have affected household structures. 

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which migration patterns have affected household structures in the United Kingdom. 

Answer (hints and tips)

Point one – has to be about the variation in Caribbean and Indian household structures… quite easy I think… Of course you could talk about both separately.

Point two – asks that that you talk about more recent structures, drawing on Polish immigration.

What kind of household structures could you discuss?

  • Number of people in the household – so single person, or multiple occupancy.
  • The relationships between the people in the household – married or not? Friends or families? Ages?
  • Gender roles in those households – domestic division of labour
  • Numbers of adults and children (e.g. single person households)
  • Matrifocal/ Patrifocal household
  • The relationships between people in one household and other households (maybe a useful way to demonstrated analysis)
  • Generational variations…

So a potential answer might look like this:

Point one – focusing on Caribbean and Indian migration

  • Caribbean households – 60% single parent families
  • Link to male unemployment/ racism in society
  • matrifocal households
  • Contrast to Indian households
  • Higher rate marriage/ lower rate divorce
  • But later generations – divorce more likely
  • Discuss Mixed race couples

Point two – focusing on European migration

Almost certainly less you can say about this! But as long as you’ve made the most of the previous point, you could easily get into the top mark band… 

  • Younger age structure
  • More likely to have children and be married
  • Higher proportion of married families with children
  • Probably more shared-households – younger people without children sharing.

Commentary

This is a pretty straightforward question on a sub-topic within demography on how migration has affected family life in the U.K. so absolutely fair enough to ask it as a question.

However, it does concern me that the AQA’s online specification explicitly directs teachers to really dated material, and most of the text books focus on this, while this exam question expects students to know about recent events relating to migration and the family which are neither on their online specification or in any of the major A level text books.

I think the AQA needs to relax it’s focus on that really dated material (the classic question on ‘Functionalism and the Family’ in the same paper is a good example of how students are expected to know in-depth this stuff from the 1950s) if it’s going to demand a more contemporary focus.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a contemporary focus, just all that dated material that was such a waste of time students learning (like Pahl and Volger FFS), just in case it came up. This is a real problem because it makes sociology lose credibility, undermining the discipline.

Critics might say this problem emerges from the fact that whoever sets the agenda for the AQA families and households syllabus is something of a timeserver who can’t be bothered to update the specification appropriately by cutting down all the dated material. They might cite as evidence for this the fact that the specification hasn’t really changed significantly in 30 years.

Full answer from the AQA 

Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to this question, which achieved a top band-mark, 10/10 in fact!

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).

The Question with Item 

10-mark-question-item-sociology

The Mark Scheme (top band only)

10-mark-question-item-mark-top-band-sociology.png

Student Response:

Item C points out that most immigrants come to Britain from commonwealth countries such as Jamaica. Bertod did a study of Caribbean families which found a type of individualism: the norm that people had to right to be free within marriage even if they had a child with the other person. This meant many Caribbean fathers chose not to stay with the mother of their children, leading to an increase in lone parent families.

Thus it follows that the increase in Caribbean immigration has lead to an increase in single parent families which is up from 10% in the 1970s to 23% today.

Item C also says that immigrants come from India. A study by Ballard found that South East Asians have collective, traditional values and tight knit extended families which support traditional family values – women having many children and being in the expressive role, and men in the breadwinner role, with close ties to grandparents.

This should mean an increase in traditional extended families in the UK due to Indian immigration, however the statistics do not confirm this as the divorce rate has increased dramatically since the 1970s. This does not support the idea of increased traditional families as these value marriages.

However, functionalists argue that divorce can be healthy as it there is better quality relationships in surviving marriages and remarriages.

Examiner Commentary:

Mark: 10/10

aqa-sociology-paper-2-commentary.png

KT’s commentary:

  • This is overkill, easily 10/10!
  • Apparently 4 students died instantly of boredom on seeing the question because of reference to yet more sociology from before their parents were born. 

Source:

A-level
SOCIOLOGY
Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/2 Topics in Sociology
Published: Autumn 2017

NB – this document is NOT available on the AQA website, but any teacher should have access to it via eaqa. I’m sharing it here in order to make the exam standards more accessible, and to support the AQA in their equality and meritocratic agendas, because there will be some poor students somewhere whose teachers aren’t organised enough to access this material for them.