Why the rise in Air Passenger Duty matters to BME communities up and down the UK

Why the rise in Air Passenger Duty matters to BME communities up and down the UK

‘A wicked tax’ as many members of my friends and family explain to me when I am helping them find tickets ‘going home’ to Jamaica or Grenada.

Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) will be holding a fringe event at Spring Conference looking at the effects of the controversial Air Passenger Duty (APD) on BME communities and the economy as a whole. I have real concerns that when the new levy is introduced this April, the party could be seen in a negative light amongst some communities.

APD was a duty that was introduced in 1994 with a £5 rate for the UK/EU and £10 elsewhere. Since then, it has seen several increases and a doubling for passengers travelling other than economy class.

Last December, the Government  announced that  the current structure is staying, despite a four-month long consultation,  and that there will be an double inflationary increase. It is expected that the duty will raise £3.2 billion from receipts in 2015 and £3.8 billion in 2017 (against receipts of £2.2 billion for 2011).

Because APD is a socially regressive duty, the impact on BME communities in the UK will be quite profound. They have a tendency to travel more than people going on holiday in order to maintain their links with home communities.   They also tend to earn lower incomes so any increase in costs in aviation would impact on them more than any other group.

Communities of Caribbean origin have been working closely with Caribbean High Commissioners lobbying the government to lower the charge for Caribbean flights. They feel they are being  unfairly discriminated against and denied the right to keep their links with their respective communities.

As a result of the changes coming into place in April, many more of our communities, especially from the Indian Sub Continent and Latino communities have started to raise awareness through various social media outputs. The opinions of these communities matter as they will become a major voting force in 2015 and this will be an issue which will have an impact on their voting intent.

The duty is having a deterrent effect on a variety of other areas such as:

  • fewer overseas visitors willing to fly in and out of the UK and thus encouraging  behaviour which increases aviation’s  carbon footprint;
  • businesses thinking twice about setting up shop here or expanding operations, with executives from the BRICS economies ( according to a recent British Chamber of Commerce survey) preferring to expand their operations in mainland Europe;
  • non EU airlines removing capacity, thus putting under threat UK connectivity to key and new markets.

It is important that we in the Liberal Democrats have the debate and undertake work to garner a better understanding on the ramifications of the duty, especially on many of our communities.

I hope you can join me, with Darren Caplan of the Airport Operators Association, the Trinidadian High Commissioner to the UK, Garvin Nicholas, and Lord Shipley in what will be a stimulating debate.

Air Passenger Duty Hike: Impact on BME Communities and the British Economy, Saturday 10 March 2012, 1-2pm, SageGateshead MEC 5

* James Jennings is the Vice Chair of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Conference.


  • I’m sure the Airport Operators Association cares deeply about the social well-being of BME communities.

    But the suggestion that this is “unfair discrimination” and a denial of rights is belittling of the real discrimination and human rights abuses that minorities face around the world. I doubt there are many policies or taxes that affect all people equally. That doesn’t mean they are discriminatory.

  • The duty to Jamaica from next fiscal year is £81 per flight (no APD is levied on the return), which is about the same amount of money as would be paid if VAT were levied. So it seems to me that APD is making up for aviation’s rather anomalous exemption from VAT.

  • Richard Swales 2nd Mar '12 - 10:41pm

    If there are separate BME “communities” in the UK then why be in the UK at all? When one in 5 UK children is of mixed-race, surely BME citizens are members of the local community wherever they live? (just like me, as an immigrant here in Slovakia).

  • @Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    “As far as I am aware the Liberal Democrat Party has no intention of adopting the very questionable, and certainly not inclusive ‘one nation’ approach that others have?”

    Perhaps you’d like to expand on what you believe “one nation” politics to be in the UK?

  • Richard Swales 3rd Mar '12 - 6:05pm

    @Ruwan – perhaps it is a strange question to be on a Lib Dem site, but as the only Lib Dem member living in Slovakia I have a different perspective. I have married locally, have two bi-national children and I am part of the wider community, not some British ex-pat community thank god. When I see people trying to live like that I ask them “Why be in Slovakia?”
    Clearly, if one in 5 of all children in the UK are now mixed race, then this narrative of people belonging to closed, race-based communities rather than their geographic, neighbour-based communities doesn’t match reality for most BME people (again, thank god).

  • It is n’t the 1st of April yet, but I see conference session is coming!

    When my grandparents came to Britain you could only travel across the oceans by ship… To my parents knowledge they never visited, kept contact or mentioned the ancestral homeland and hence my parents did similar. I and others of my generation (in the family) regard England as our ancestral homeland and have wholeheartedly engaged with our local communities and would consider ourselves to be fully rounded individuals. FYI, I do not know were my ancestral home is, or my grandparents family name in that community – that information my grandparents took to the grave.

    I therefore suggest members of the EMLD and BME communities do similar – you may find it quite liberating and your children may get on better as a result. If this doesn’t appeal then there is nothing stopping you relocating yourselves back in your ancestral homelands since you are obviously not wholeheartly committed to living in your adopted country.

  • Oranjepan

    I don’t equate commitment to ‘ancestral homelands’ as ‘liberating’, in fact the converse. In some ethnic communities/families you can see the stifling effect of the ancestral umbilical cord; particularly on women.
    By not having the ‘ancestral homeland’ baggage, my family has been free (although some may say forced) to create our own heritage and worldview; which I admit is heavily influenced by the country that granted my grandparents the right to settle in.

    As for the relative importance of the right to settle and the freedom to travel. Firstly, lets address the “right to settle”; as a new immigrant, you have no absolute right to settle in any country other than the one you were born in, any such ‘rights’ are granted by the government of the country that gives you permission to settle. However, assuming your “right to settle” includes the permission to become a “native” then your children born in that country will (typically) be regarded as “natives” and hence automatically gain all the rights that that confers.

    It should be noted that it is the first generation immigrant, that initiates the entire process, and hence they have made the choice, for whatever reasons, to move away from their “ancestral homeland” and to take on the burden of responsibility that goes with this decision. I see no reason why the country that gives these people permission to settle should take any responsibility for maintaining these people’s link with their foreign heritage, in fact quite the converse.

    Secondly, freedom to travel; well assuming you have a passport and can obtain the necessary visa’s for the countries you are travelling through and to then you have freedom to travel. The only issues are whether you can afford the cost of travel and whether it is really advisable to visit as frequently as the relatives demand. Remember until comparatively recently journeys were significantly more expensive in real-terms and involved a lot more than sitting on a scheduled flight for a few hours and yet people were still able to maintain contact.

    I would be interested to see some generational breakdown of those from the BME community lobbying for an APD reduction – it wouldn’t surprise me to find that the vast majority are first generation adult immigrants, along with a sizeable group of young people who moved because of their parents and hence gave up school friends etc., both of which groups are more liable to suffer from homesickness than subsequent generations.

    As for the relative importance, well I think it is obvious that having a roof over your head and being able to call a place home is much more important than being able to jump on a plane to visit relations and/or ancestral communities whenever we feel the need.

    As an aside I do recommend reading “Cry Wolf: A Political Fable” by Lake & Paul to better understand why we should take care when addressing the demands of recent immigrants.

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