Friday, 5 December 2008

Should Citizenship be a given?

As the global credit crunch looms and terrorist attacks occur at home and in faraway lands hitherto associated with serenity and opulence (Bali and more recently Mumbai) I find myself asking "should citizenship be a given right"?

In the UK we are battered daily by stories about British-born Islamic terrorists, unrestrained urban knife crime, elderly poverty, fuel poverty and benefit theft. I recently returned to London having been away for a week and as I entered the urban sprawl that is the city I experienced the feeling that I was entering the old wild west. It was ultimately a feeling of lawlessness. It wasn't the first time that I had felt this feeling as I drove into the city from "out of town." In fact the question that forms the title of this post, which is intended to create discussion and provide food-for-thought not advocate an actual policy, first arrived in my mind after I moved to the wild west that is modern London some seven years ago. But this isn't a story unique to London. The point of this post is to consider an alternative form of the provision of citizenship.

The UK is falling apart at the seems, or so it seems if we are to believe the constant stories of crime, hatred and social corruption in Britain. There is no doubt that the country of my birth is a vastly different place than it was a mere decade ago. There are a number of factors that can account for this: nanny-state liberal welfarism which has created a "benefit culture" that prevents those who ought to be working from working (for example capable asylum-seekers) and rewards those who simply don't want to work. In all of this the honest hard-working taxpayer is the victim, for it is our National Insurance Contributions that fund this escapade. Virtually unrestricted immigration from the other 26 member states of the European Union and some Commonwealth countries has had a drastic affect on British society. Schools, the National Health Service and Sewage and waste management facilities are all at breaking point in some parts of the Union (Slough and Peterborough are good examples). The decadely national census is virtually useless. Unrestrained banks have over stretched themselves using savers' money and a passive and inept judiciary and obsessively politically-correct police forces seem entirely incapable of enforcing and interpreting the law. It would be easy to place the blame entirely on government policies and the governing agencies and organisations. However, though governing agencies such as the Home Office and the judiciary are ultimately responsible for allowing the country to sink to the level of depravity it has currently reached, we, the citizenry, need to accept some of the responsibility. The British, particularly the English, are notoriously passive and apathetic. We are known for not even complaining if food is served cold in a restaurant, so mobilising to confront government .... forget it. It's time that we took advantage of our democratic heritage and demanded change. What is the point in our soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for the sake of "democracy" if we don't even practice our democratic rights here in Britain? Perhaps it is time to consider making citizenship an earner honour rather than a given birthright.

The fact that hate-preachers such as Abu Hamza, who has publicly claimed that if he had the means to go back to Afghanistan and kill a British soldier he would "love to do so", and 21/7 wannabe-terrorist Yassin Omar both lived in housing accommodation at the time of their arrests is such a sickening insult to public decency, when we have second world war veterans living in fuel poverty. Omar's terrorist co-conspiracist, Muktar Said Ibrahim was granted British citizenship after serving five years in a UK young Offenders Institute for robbery and assault.

I don't intend this post to degenerate into an immigration debate, but rather provide a platform for discussing the rights and duties of citizens. A lot of people won't like this but just hear me out for a minute before you make any judgements: what if we told all residents, immigrant and British-born that they had to EARN their citizenship. That's right, earned citizenship. A policy intended to weed out undesirables from applying for, and receiving citizenship, and to install the notion that citizenship is a privilege not a birthright, and one not to be taken for granted.

What are the practicalities of such as policy and how could it be enforced? There's a lot of scope here. One possibility is to identify British-born children as Full British Citizens (FBC) until age 19. This would entitle them to all the benefits of FBC until they reach a predetermined age (in this example 19). Once they reach this age they would automatically become British Resident-Citizens (BRC) unless they had already fulfilled a number of citizenship requirements. These requirements would not be obligatory and any individual could chose to ignore them and to continue to live in the UK as a BRC. However in doing so they would forfeit any right to certain citizenship benefits, such as welfare provision and National Health Service treatment (other than in emergencies). Of course these individuals would have passports, clearly stating their status, entitling them to travel. Any individual who opted out of applying for FBC at age 19 could do so anytime thereafter, providing they had met the requirements in the interim. Likewise, before any foreign-born British residents could be eligible for nationality and subsequently citizenship they too would have to fulfill the requirements. Of course certain incapable individuals, such as the genuinely disabled and mentally incapable, would be exempt.

Now to the requirements. There is much scope here too, but I have had some ideas. These requirements aren't intended as punishment, rather they are intended to install pride in ones citizenship, community spirit and an understanding of democracy and justice in the citizenry. An additional benefit would be the deterrent value that such compulsory requirements would have on potential undesirable immigrants who are unprepared to earn the rights this country has to offer. In order to qualify for FBC, BRCs or FBCs under the age of 19 would have to prove their commitment to their local communities or the nation, their work ethic and their character. They must be able to demonstrate that they have worked and paid tax and national insurance contributions for at least 2 full years. They must be able to demonstrate that they have performed a national duty or community-based duties. Here individuals will have choices. Those interested in the military may opt to serve in one of the armed forces for a period of 12 months on a subsistence level. This could be done on a full-time or pat-time basis (eg. weekends). Those with no such desire may opt to perform a series of civil duties. These duties could include voluntary community policing, road and street cleaning, coaching local youngsters and being involved in local youth centres and assisting the elderly. Individuals choosing the latter option could decide whether they wanted to dedicate themselves full-time to their voluntary assignments or to fulfill their requirements on a part-time basis as they work and thus pay tax and national insurance contributions. Individuals should be prepared to perform their civil duties for perhaps 1,200 hours. On a part-time basis that would work out at about 12 hours per week over a 2 year period. The latter option would make it possible for individuals to move from BRC to FBC within about two and a half years. School-leavers aged 16 could have fulfilled their requirements by the time they reach their 19th birthday and consequently would never be reclassified as BRCs.

The requirements above would be applicable if the individual had a clean or only minor criminal history. For those with an extensive or serious criminal history the requirements would be more rigorous and extensive and the applicant would have to provide demonstrable evidence of their rehabilitation and regret. Foreign-born residents who had a serious or extensive criminal history would be automatically precluded from applying. Other requirements could include the successful completion of a high school or equivalent education, the successful sitting of a "Life in the UK" exam to demonstrate a knowledge of the history, culture and governance of the UK, and for foreign-born residents, an English competency exam and health check.

To some people such a policy would probably be slandered as "fascist." To others it may be too little too late. I believe there may be something to it. It would need a lot of work and consideration before being implemented, and of course strict measures would have to be imposed to avoid fraud and corruption. But potential obstacles aside, just have a think about the benefits for us all, as a nation, before your immediately reject it.

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