Do you know which 9th century Anglo-Saxon monarch defeated the Vikings?
This weekend, the Home Office announced that it would be introducing a new version of the Life in the UK (LIUK) test for applicants from March 2013. Apparently this is part of government efforts "to help ensure migrants are ready and able to integrate into British society". Unfortunately the end result looks less like a serious policy aimed at supporting long-term integration, and more like a game of Trivial Pursuits with significantly more at stake than a piece of plastic cake.
We reported in July last year that government was proposing to make substantial changes to the Life in the UK test - taken by most people applying for settlement and/or citizenship in the UK. Since then, civil servants have worked up an extraordinary new set of questions for the test. The new handbook has been released for sale today, showing that applicants from 25 March 2013 will be expected to know about 18th century industrialists such as Richard Arkwright and British painters, poets and musicians. They will be tested on the history of the UK from the Stone Age up to the present day. And they will need to know about garden design, architecture and medieval stained glass.
To make way for the new questions, the government has chosen to take out the information and questions in the test which ensure that migrants have the full range of information at their fingertips about practical, everyday tasks. According to immigration minister Mark Harper, the test has been:
"completely rewritten, removing questions on topics that those living in the UK should already be aware of like public transport, credit cards and job interviews... The new book rightly focuses on the values and principles at the heart of being British. Instead of telling people how to claim benefits it encourages participation in British life".
This is a short-sighted development. If it serves no other purpose for migrants, the LIUK test is an opportunity to make sure that people settling here permanently have managed to pick up the everyday information that they need in order to go about their daily lives and settle in here in the long-run. Instead of promoting integration, the government has chosen to create a version of 'Britishness' which most Brits would view as baffling.
We can expect that most migrants will approach the new test as yet another necessary hurdle to overcome. Inspired by the goal of finally reaching a point of stability in the UK, most people will go the extra mile to learn the new information required of them and pass the new test. No doubt this development will continue to elevate migrants' knowledge of British history, culture and arts well beyond the level of the rest of the British public (polls suggest that 70% of Brits would not have passed the old test let alone the new one) - and will help to supply quiz shows with excellent candidates into the future.
But in the process it is making something of a mockery out of our naturalisation process.