| Policy Briefing Note
In June 2002, the UK government issued a consultation paper regarding the proposed creation of a universal “Entitlement Card.” According to the Home Office, among other.purposes, the card would “proide people who are lawfully resident In the UK with a means of confirming their Identity to a high degree of assurance.” It would also “help people gain entitlement to products and services provided by both the public and private sectors, particularly those who might find it difficult to so do at present.” (our emphasis) It is explicitly stated that the government is not considering a scenario where citizens are obligated to have and carry the card on their persons at all times, a statement we find highly dubious.
The 1990 Trust believes that this is a crucial issue that deserves the widest possible response from UK citizens of every community. Given the current tense state of race relations in the UK, especially in the area of criminal justice, we are firmly opposed to the introduction of what, despite governments peak, is in reality identity cards. We unite with the many NGOs and political leaders who have already expressed concern about the potential violations of human rights and invasion of privacy implications of this proposal. We question why the issue of an identity card is raised at this particular moment, and the real world impact of the implementation of such a scheme.
In this post-September 11th environment, anti-immigrant and anti-Asylum Seekers fever is at a high pitch. Daily venom by the tabloids and other voices in UK society has contributed to an atmosphere of “them” versus “us.” To call for an identity scheme that has the potential to further such attitudes is to collaborate with those bigoted views. The issue for those who find it difficult to access entitlements they have a right to already is not the lack of a identity card; it is unabridged discrimination. As has often happened in the past, a policy that appears to be neutral on the surface, when closely examined is anything but. Much of the government’s argument of fighting fraud and other criminal activities is spurious and has little merit. Further, we know that biased notions of the links between crime and race have not disappeared, and under the proposed identity plan, social exclusion and discrimination against certain groups can be expected to increase.
What the Identity Card Might Mean for Black Communities
Black communities are very suspicious about how the cards will be used by the police, public services, and the private sector. If the “stop-and-search” experience is any indication, Black and Asian people and those who appear to be immigrants or Asylum Seekers will receive the bulk of inquiries and suspicions. According to government figures, in 2000-2001, although the number of stops-and-searches by UK police dropped by 17 percent, the number of Black and Asian people who were stopped actually went up by 4 percent. In London, where the instances of stops dropped 6 percent in 2001 and 40 percent in 2000, the number of Blacks and Asians stopped rose by 6 percent and 3 percent respectively while for Whites they dropped by 14 percent. In 1998-99 Black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. This figures do not bode well for the entitlement card scheme being proposed by government.
Beyond policing, it is also likely that the same marginalised groups will be questioned more than the general population as they attempt to access services.questioned Such a scheme will allow the private sector and public sector authorities to selectively hassle and harass particular individuals. Those who already doubt the legitimacy of certain groups belonging in the UK will have one more avenue of assaulting people’s dignity and rights. If entitlement cards become the de facto means of lawful identity, it means that Black people and “immigrants” will necessarily have to carry their cards at all time even if technically no compulsory requirements exists.
The government has provided no evidence that this proposal will reduce crime, catch terrorists, or stop illegal immigrations, the ever-changing rationalisations presented to argue its case.
The disproportionality across the CJS and wider society that demonstrates discrepancies in the treatment of Black people will simple extend to entitlement cards.
We strongly advise that the entitlement card scheme be scrapped.
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