Is the UK citizenship test counterproductive?

New research indicates that gaining UK citizenship leads to immigrants becoming less engaged in politics.

New research indicates that immigrants who gained UK citizenship through passing the citizenship test became less engaged in politics rather than more engaged.

Rather than encouraging people to feel more included, the research published in Sociology found that the process alienates people and tends to make them feel less engaged in British politics.

The research has been led by sociologist Dr David Bartram, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Leicester.

He used data from “Understanding Society”, the UK household panel study, and analysed data on almost 1,000 immigrants who were not citizens in 2010. This was then compared with their responses to answers on political engagement six years later – at which point almost half of the sample had become citizens.

The results indicate that, in contrast to those who remained non-citizens, new citizens reported lower interest in politics and reported no increased involvement in key types of civic organisations.

The citizenship test was launched in 2005 and was born out of the idea that successful integration needed a more proactive and inclusive approach. The test was implemented by David Blunkett, who was Home Secretary at the time, and was promoted as a way of fostering an ‘active role’ among immigrants, both politically and economically, and encouraging a sense of belonging within the wider community.

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, indicates that the outcome for many is the opposite. Dr Bartram said: “At best, naturalisation in the UK does not lead to an increase in civic participation (despite a reasonable expectation that it would do so) – and the requirements associated with gaining citizenship evidently lead new UK citizens to a lower level of interest in politics.”

Dr Bartram suggested that this outcome reflects the types of questions asked on the “Life in the UK” test. Many of the questions about politics are uninspiring and involved detailed factoids: “How are Whips appointed?”, or “How many politicians are there in cabinet?”

Dr Bartram adds: “This sort of knowledge is hardly inspiring; it certainly doesn’t foster a sense of empowerment via collective action in the name of justice and fairness. If we give immigrants the sense that this is what our politics is all about, they’re likely to respond along the lines of: 'who needs it?'”

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