Open Letter to Lord Hodgson on UK citizenship test


4th of July 2018

Dear Lord Hodgson
on Friday I will take the citizenship test.
It is Brexit, that after nearly 30 years in the UK, made me apply for a UK citizenship.
As part of the requirement to prove my worthiness for a citizenship application, I have to pass a citizenship test.
Reading the guidance book Life in the UK was an exercise that left me speechless in parts.
I noticed that you have discussed the test recently in Parliament and that your committee found it to be lacking, if not an obstacle to citizenship. I agree.
As somebody who lived here for just under 30 years and who has acquired three UK university degrees (and half a PhD) and a vocational diploma, volunteered, sparked a functioning community group, who was a youth mentor for criminally endangered young persons, and who works as a correspondent, to name a few things, it is indeed an insult to even have to do this test. Moreover, it is a sheer travesty what is inside the book: huge omissions and shameful mistakes.
The sections on services, rights and expectations are fair enough, but the book fails:
  • because in its representation of modern Britain of the last 200 years and the figures, which it holds as important, it is narrow and almost wholly un-diverse, except in sports.
  • in the way it understates what the slave trade was about, dedicating more lines to the abolition than to what it was, not discussing adequately its range, giving no figures and that in fact it was the fundamental basis of Britain’s wealth.
  • in the way it does not look at critical aspects of Britain’s colonisation of the “ new world.”
  • in the way that it refers to the Empire as “just having grown”, rather than putting an honest recognition of how it grew, namely mostly by the barrel of the gun. Most migrants, if they come from countries once upon a time colonised, will know better, so it is disingenuine, if not deliberately misleading, given one version of events, that is explicitly hiding a truer more genuine account of history (one of my degrees is in history the other in (urban) sociology).
  • in the way that it states that the Empire was mostly “given up orderly,” but fails to mention that not all territories were given up, nor does it mention Gibraltar and the holding of the Falklands, as far as I could see, nor that there was a struggle and demand for decolonisation, if I read the book correctly.
  • because compared to its discussion of the Irish conflict, the colonial past is but a cosmetic footnote.
  • because in the World War Two section there is – and that let my jaw drop and triple check, I read correctly – no mentioning of the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews of Europe, nor about Britain’s role in the liberation of some of the camps like Bergen Belsen, nor Britain’s role in the formation of the UN and British lawyers role in setting up the Universal Human Rights as a result.
  • because it says fairly little on institutions that are British in origin and unique such as Greenpeace, Save the Children, Peabody, Barnados, the co-operative movement, nor does it have much to say about the history of the unions.
  • I note you have highlighted further issues as reported here in the Daily Telegraph
It beggars belief that people applying for citizenship are examined on such a narrow one-sided and facts omitting book.
I think your committee should urgently revisit this book and question those who composed it, and those who composed the test and have it assessed by academic experts of UK society and history and philosophy and direct the Home Office accordingly.
Attention should be given to an inclusive account, that reflects Britain’s diverse populations adequately and respectfully.
In the climate of critique of the Home Office regarding the “hostile environment,” I believe you should not overlook this citizenship test and its guidance book.
With kind regards
Daniel Zylbersztajn

Answer from

The Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts CBE

House of Lords

London SW1A 0PW

Dear Mr Zylbersztajn

Thank you for this email. Last year, I chaired a Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement. Our Report is available on the Parliamentary website (HL Paper 118). We did indeed make a number of comments and criticisms of the Citizenship Test (see para 463-473 of the Report). The Government have accepted our recommendations and an update of the Test has begun.