What is a Citizen?

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Citizenship is the legal recognition that a person belongs to a nation, state or commonwealth. It usually comes with rights and responsibilities. For example, citizens must pay taxes and obey the law. Some nations also have special rights for their citizens, such as the right to vote or hold public office. Citizenship can be gained by birth, marriage or naturalisation. The rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship vary between countries, but most states have some form of it.

The idea of citizenship is central to debates about immigration, integration and equality. The Labour government from 1997 to 2010 emphasized ‘active citizenship’, seeking to move citizens beyond what was seen as ‘passive recipients of public services’ into engaged participants in society. This policy was implemented through changes to the formal processes of acquiring citizenship. These included introducing a probationary citizenship status which could last for up to five years and required the candidate to answer questions about Britishness, values and belonging, rather than the more technical question of how long they have been living in the UK. It also introduced new tests for demonstrating English language proficiency and other skills.

This policy was a reaction to the perceived ‘citizenship deficit’ in the UK, which had arisen from the lack of engagement with civil society by some citizens, particularly those who were less well off. The coalition government has continued to emphasize this concept of active citizenship, as part of its Big Society agenda. It has also made significant changes to the process of obtaining formal citizenship, including making it mandatory for schools to run citizenship education programmes for 16 year olds.

Whether a law is good or bad depends on what it does. It may help people to understand their community or make life better for everyone. A good law explains what happens and why it happens, for example, the strength of gravity between two objects depends on their mass and distance apart. A bad law is one that takes advantage of people, for example by allowing fraud. A good law is fair and helps people to feel safe.

A person who lives in a country other than their own is a citizen of that country. People who live in a country for an extended period of time are usually called residents or aliens. They must obey the laws of the country they live in and may not be able to work or own property. They usually must have a visa to remain in the country.

The term ‘citizen’ can also be used informally to describe someone who behaves well or is a good neighbour. A good citizen is polite, helpful and a hard worker. A good citizen contributes to the welfare of their local community, and respects other people’s beliefs. A good citizen is loyal to their country and works hard to make the world a better place. A bad citizen does not obey the law, steals money or tries to take advantage of other people.