Women make up just one in five of the major historical figures in the Home Office’s official handbook to help people hoping to settle in the UK understand British culture and history – and only two are women from ethnic minorities. The Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, Jo Swinson, has condemned the lack of female role…
Womenmake up just one in five of the major historical figures in the Home Office’s official handbook to help people hoping to settle in the UK understand British culture and history – and only two are women from ethnic minorities.
The Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, Jo Swinson, has condemned the lack of female role models in the handbook, which features 191 men and 39 women. Of the women featured, 40% are members of the royal family and just one is an MP – Margaret Thatcher.
Among those notably absent from the 180-page handbook include the current prime minister, Theresa May, Nancy Astor, the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons, the pilot Amy Johnson, who set numerous long-distance flying records and Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.
Only two are women of colour – the Olympic athlete Dame Kelly Holmes and the architect Zaha Hadid.
The handbook is the official preparatory guide for the Life in the UK test, which immigrants must take as part of their citizenship or settlement process.
The handbook says its contents demonstrate “a modern thriving society with a long and illustrious history … our people have been at the heart of the world’s political, scientific, industrial and cultural development”. The guide has been “approved by ministers” and bears the official Home Office logo.
Swinson, whose party compiled the data from the handbook, said: “Such a lazy, male-dominated recounting of our country’s history and culture is incredibly disappointing.
“In sharing our rich and enviable heritage, we must recognise the contributions made by those who history tends to forget. This book fails utterly to do that.”
Swinson said the Home Office should ensure future editions not only featured more women, but more people from minority groups.
“It is also incumbent on all of us to share the stories of those whose voices we are less likely to hear, and to support writers, scientists, artists, musicians and sportspeople of all backgrounds and identities,” she said.
First introduced in 2002 under the Labour government, the test has been repeatedly criticised for being an unrepresentative depiction of British history and culture. In 2006, the Guardian found it was full of “historical howlers”, including misquoting Winston Churchill and misdescribing Mary I’s ascent to the throne.
A report in 2013 by Durham University’s Prof Thom Brooks, who was born in the US and sat the test in 2011, found the test “lacks gender balance and women receive much less attention than merited” though more female historical figures have been added since then.