A CALL to challenge in Parliament the “prohibitive” cost of citizenship application fees was issued by the General Synod, after an debate on the state of the nation in which concerns were raised that the Church was being insufficiently radical in its dealings with the Government.
After hearing personal testimonies about the impact of the fee, described as “immoral” and a cause of “injustice and exploitation”, members voted unanimously for a motion brought from the diocese of Birmingham, which urged the Public Affairs team, the Lords Spiritual, and parishes to raise the issue with parliamentarians.
Introducing the motion, Ben Franks said that many of those eligible to apply for citizenship were working in low-paid jobs, had to save for years, and were vulnerable to falling into the hands of “unscrupulous lenders”.
”Those who do not apply for citizenship but maintain leave to remain are caught in a status limbo. . . This creates a sub-class. It risks undoing the work we do in promoting integration.” The current application fee is £1282 for each adult, and £973 for each child. In 2016, the Home Office estimated that its expenditure for dealing with an application for citizenship was £272.
Sir Tony Baldry, a former Second Church Estates Commissioner, was sympathetic to the motion. The Government had granted indefinite leave to remain to many people who nevertheless remained “stateless”, together with their children. “That cannot be in the best interests of public policy,” he said.
The debate followed a motion tabled late by the Archbishops: “After the General Election, a still small voice of calm”, which committed the Synod to praying for parliamentarians “that they will prioritise the common good”.
Although it was passed, its contents did not impress everyone. Canon Martin Gainsborough, a professor of politics at the University of Bristol, said that it “smacks of one written by a fearful Church, fearful of saying anything substantive, of naming the issues in case they upset someone”.
Among the things to be named was “a failure of leadership by our political class” and “the systematic institutionalised mistreatment of the poor in this country. . .
We are the Church of God and we should not be afraid of calling the Government of
the day out, to speak truth to power.”
Dr Sentamu’s speech, which took a philosophical turn, included the assertion that “We don’t ‘own’ our money,” and the suggestion that property rights were not “absolute”. “The debate about the ‘requisitioning’ of unoccupied flats in Kensington for the victims of Grenfell Tower shows how difficult it has become to make a case for the public good, even in extreme cases transcending our normal rules about private property,” he said. Before moving a last-minute amendment that called on the public to “top up” their income tax to supplement government spending on education, health, and social care, he invited members to raise their hands if they were personally willing to do so. Although a majority of hands went up, the amendment was rejected.