Thursday, May 23, 2013

HM Government and me - more on the Life in the UK test as "unfit for purpose"

Lord Roberts of Llandudno, a Liberal Democrat Peer in the House of Lords, submitted a question to the government about my recent work on the new Life in the United Kingdom citizenship test, which I've described as "unfit for purpose" here and here. His Lordship writes:

"To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Taylor of Holbeach on 6 February (WA 58), what assessment they have made of Dr Thom Brooks’ recent evaluation of the Life in the UK Test being “unfit for purpose”."
(Hansard Citation: HL Deb, 21 May 2013, c43W)

Lord Taylor of Holbeach, a Conservative Peer and Whip in the House of Lords, responds:

"Revised Life in the UK tests based on the new Life in the UK handbook, began on 25 March. The majority of feedback received has been positive. The Government do not share Dr Brooks’ view that the handbook goes too far by including information about British culture and history at the expense of practical knowledge.

The test is one of the ways in which those applying for permanent residence or naturalisation as British citizens can demonstrate the required knowledge of language and life in the UK. The majority of those applying will have been in the UK for at least five years and should therefore be aware of practical matters, such as how to contact the emergency services. The Government therefore consider that it is right for the Life in the UK test to concentrate on British history, culture and democracy and that the handbook succeeds in providing information on these topics in an interesting and accessible way."
(Hansard Citation: HL Deb, 21 May 2013, c44W)

The Government's Life in the UK handbook is explicit: it will "help ensure a broad general knowledge of the culture, laws and history of the UK" to "help you to integrate into society and play a full role" -- but then it has omitted previously published information about the NHS and how to register with a GP, how to contact the police and report a crime, rights upon arrest, how the educational system works (including subjects taught and qualifications earned) because, well, people should already have this broad general knowledge and be integrated prior to exposure to, erm, more broad general knowledge that is impractical, inconsistent and trivial?!

The handbook says nothing at all about omitting information because people living here for at least five years should already know about it - and so it need not be required knowledge for the test nor noted in a handbook which states on its cover A Guide for New Residents. Indeed, persons living in the UK for at least five years might be expected to know already that the Queen is Head of State (so why is this noted?), that the government includes the Prime Minister and a Cabinet (so why is this included?) or that British currency includes £5 and £10 notes (so why this is required knowledge?).

If there was a genuine attempt to exclude information that every citizen should know (but must know to satisfactorily satisfy the five year residency requirement), then how was this conducted? Who was consulted about such decisions and why was information about £5 notes included anyway, but not how to contact the police?

I suspect the real problem is that this process was rushed through too quickly with insufficient attention to detail. My report to be published on 13th June will highlight in depth serious flaws with the Life in the UK test that will make for sober reading. Expect much more in due course.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

BBC News interview on criminal justice

. . . can be found here. The position argued for is developed in my book, Punishment. Many risk factors are identified with reoffending. These include drug and alcohol problems, housing insecurity, financial insecurity and others. Most offenders have various combinations of these high risk factors present. This has led most to tackle these factors one by one in order to reduce reoffending: the less we find risk factors, then less reoffending should follow.

It is obvious though that the link is imperfect. Why is it that some, but not all, persons with one or more risk factors engage in crime? What is the specific link between these factors and crime?

My book argues that these risk factors can be manifestations of a deeper problem concerning recognition. Individuals must see themselves as having a stake in society. The less they do, then this is at the heart of why crime may be more likely.

This idea about stakeholding develops an idea first found in Hegel about a different problem. In his Philosophy of Right, Hegel argues that the problem of modernity is the problem of "the rabble." The rabble are persons who are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in most cases, but also at the very top. It doesn't discriminate between rich and poor although poverty may be linked more strongly with the creation of a rabble (and, hence, this is often referred to as Hegel's "the problem of poverty").

The problem of the rabble is their mind-set: they view society as an other, as something that excludes them and which (in my reinterpretation) they fail to see themselves as having a stake. For Hegel, it is crucial that every one sees himself or herself as being reconciled, that we see the world as a social home. Of course, this requires that our world is worth making a home in the first place. But Hegel gets right that stakeholding is essential for political stability - and relevant for tackling problems of criminal justice.

Offenders require a sense of belonging, that they matter and have a stake in society - and so they have motivation to work within society rather than against it through crime. I was delighted to see the central figure in the BBC News story accept this point.

So check out the story that includes my interview - and see this for more on my work on punishment more generally.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The "Life in the UK" citizenship test: is it unfit for purpose?

Castle Cutting Edge: Dr Thom Brooks

13th June 2013, 20:30, Senate Suite, University College, Durham ('Durham Castle')
'The "Life in the UK" citizenship test: is it unfit for purpose?'

The "Life in the UK" citizenship test was launched in 2005 and revised in 2007. The test must be passed by anyone applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or naturalisation. Past editions were criticised for factual inaccuracies and their failure to include much information about British history and culture. The third edition was published in March 2013. It is a comprehensive departure in form and content from past tests that raises several serious concerns about the construction of the test. Its inability to meet its central goal as a test of knowledge about life in the United Kingdom renders it unfit for purpose and it is in need of urgent reforms.

This talk launches a new critical report into the problems with the UK citizenship test and how they should be addressed. Thom Brooks is a regular commentator on the test for national and local media. He has first-hand experience of the test as well when immigrating to the UK from the United States. All attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the new report and briefing document for a talk that will enlighten and surprise.

Contact for more information about this event.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Punishment" book launch in the Houses of Parliament

My new book, Punishment, was launched this week at the Houses of Parliament in a Committee Room of the House of Lords. The panel was chaired by my close friend (Lord) Bhikhu Parekh. Speakers included (Baroness) Vivien Stern and Frances Crook. I'm extremely grateful to everyone who took part for a wonderful occasion that I'll never forget. A briefing paper about my book and its contributions for penal theory and sentencing practices can be found here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Punishment" book launch and roundtable

. . . kicks off tomorrow evening at the Houses of Parliament. Further details can be found here and anyone interested in coming should contact me so I can register your attendance. The event is free and speakers include Lord Bhikhu Parekh FBA, the Baroness Vivien Stern CBE, Frances Crook OBE and yours truly.

Les Green on same-sex marriage - mandatory reading...and hearing!

Les Green is interviewed at Philosophy Bites about same-sex marriage. These comments stem from his outstanding article "Sex-Neutral Marriage" in Current Legal Problems:

"[Abstract] A different-sex marriage need not be a marriage between heterosexuals, and a same-sex marriage need not be a marriage between homosexuals. This shows how little the law of marriage cares about the sexuality of parties to a marriage; it does not show that sex-restricted marriage laws do not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. They do. Neither does the law care much about sex, let alone possibly procreative sex, within marriage. The voidability of a different-sex marriage on grounds of non-consummation does not show otherwise. The formation of a valid marriage was always a matter of consent, not coitus. But what should happen to the doctrine of non-consummation in a sex-neutral marriage regime? It is an anachronism that should be abolished."

Without doubt, the best thing I've read yet on this topic and essential, even mandatory!, reading for anyone with an interest in the topic. Additionally, the Philosophy Bites podcast is a brilliant exchange where Professor Green demolishes any number of myths clearly and succinctly in a compelling tour de force.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

In Defence of Political Theory: Impact and Opportunities

. . . is free to download here and published in Political Studies Review as part of a special issue on impact. The abstract:

This article will present the impact that political theory has made and the opportunities for future contributions. It will consider the contributions made by leading political theorists to policy debates, the lessons learned from their successes, and how political theorists might further pursue existing and new opportunities to develop impact. The discussion will close with consideration of several potential threats that theorists should become more aware of in order to best avoid them. The growing importance of impact in British higher education policy represents important challenges that may help promote the field of political theory. Political theorists should welcome these developments.


  • higher education;
  • impact;
  • political thought;
  • public policy;
  • stakeholding

JOB: Durham

Lecturer in Law

Durham University - Durham Law School

Salary: £30,424 per annum

Durham Law School seeks to appoint a Lecturer for a two-year period. The Law School welcomes applications from scholars working in any area of legal scholarship who demonstrate exceptional promise, although the ability to teach in the field of private law would be welcome. This post is a fixed-term replacement for Professor William Lucy during his time as a Leverhulme Research Fellow.

Durham University is consistently ranked among the top 100 universities in the world, and Durham Law School is one of the UK's leading centres for legal research and teaching. We ranked joint fourth in the UK in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in terms of the proportion of research activity ranked at the highest 4* level. The School achieved the top rating of ‘Excellent’ for its teaching in our most recent Quality Assurance Agency inspection, and we are consistently rated one of the leading UK law schools in various league tables. Our academic and research staff, together with our undergraduate and postgraduate students, comprise a dynamic and focused intellectual community. Early career researchers within the School are assigned to an academic mentor and supported in their transition into full-time academic life. Our courses are highly regarded, entry is very competitive and we select a diverse student intake from across the world.

The successful applicant will be in post on or before September 2013.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the School.

Reference Number: 2450

Closing Date: 9th June 2013

Further details of the post are available on our website (

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Punishment book launch

Punishment book launch

The Houses of Parliament

Date: Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Time: 17:00-19:00
Place: Committee Room 3, the Houses of Parliament, London

Punishment is a topic of increasing importance for citizens and policymakers. Why should we punish criminals? What purposes should punishment serve? These questions and many others will be addressed in this roundtable discussion celebrating the launch of Punishment by Thom Brooks. Panel members include:

Lord Parekh FBA (chair), Labour Peer and former Chair of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain

Frances Crook OBE, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform

Baroness Stern CBE, Crossbench Peer and former Director of NACRO 

Thom Brooks, author of Punishment and Reader in Law at Durham University

Attendance is free, but spaces are limited. Please register (subject heading “book launch”) to thom. brooks

Further information about the event is here:

Further information about the book is here:

The Publisher’s website is here:

Friday, May 03, 2013