Closing the Citizenship gaps

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Britons everywhere should share the same rights.

The government treats British citizens differently depending on where they live. It does so for convenience and cost management and that isn’t fair.

For example, most of our working lives we contribute to the state pension via National Insurance. If you live in the UK when you retire or one of the 48 countries that currently have an agreement in place you’ll receive your state pension in full along with an annual uplift to help it keep pace with inflation. If you live in one of the other countries during retirement – including Australia, New Zealand and Canada – you’ll get the pension but not the annual uplift.

This means that many people who decide to retire abroad are punished for their decision by receiving a lower quality state pension that reduces in value over time. This can put people off their dream of retiring abroad and is short-sighted given that pensioners moving can relieve UK taxpayers of around £4,000 a year in health and social care costs. Properly funded pensions can be easily resolved at relatively low cost – around £30m initially – by simply cancelling the regulations that prohibit future annual uplifts.

By the way, those 48 countries where over half a million Brits currently receive an uplifted pension are mostly European. If there’s a ‘no-deal’ Brexit this government may choose to cancel the annual rises for them too.

University access is another area where there’s a gap to close. Typically, if you’ve been resident in the UK for three years, you can go to university as a ‘home student’ and will pay the basic level of fees. That’s fair enough.

But thousands of Brits who have grown up overseas living with families working for British or multinational organisations for those three years won’t be entitled to the home student fee. By default, they’ll be charged the same as a Chinese, American or Malaysian student – often 50% more.

This approach is unfair to British citizens who have lived abroad and it can be stressful for families who often consider living apart from their children to meet the three-year qualification. Liberal Democrats policy should end this anomaly by providing access to higher education based on citizenship, not only residency. Some universities may need to be compensated for the difference in fee levels for a few thousand students. This would be a small price to pay for doing the right thing and, in time, may even encourage more Brits to attend universities in the UK.

There are some positive areas. The NHS has managed to preserve its brilliant values in providing emergency support to anyone who needs it whilst in the UK and Brits who return to settle in the UK quickly regain access to its services. There is also room for improvement. We would like to see a facility for Brits overseas with vulnerable health to register the risks of their frailty with the government. This would help provide the most accurate advice and assistance to our citizens and the host-country’s healthcare system if and when problems arise.

Current differentiation is driven by short-sighted administrative convenience and a long-standing culture of waving goodbye to our citizens when they go overseas. Britain needs to support, encourage and benefit from its citizens everywhere, instead the government chooses instead to degrade the rights of those living abroad. Liberal Democrats can change this.

These policies ideas and others are discussed in a paper developed by Liberal Democrats Overseas and in Europe. If you will be at the autumn conference you can join a fringe meeting on the topic (Sunday 15th September, 1pm).

* Ian is Head of Policy Development for LibDems Overseas and has lived in the UK, Singapore and Switzerland.

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This entry was posted in Conference, Europe / International and Op-eds.
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