Living and Working in the UK by Mathew Collins and Nicky Barclay

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Living and Working in the UK by Mathew Collins and Nicky Barclay

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Category: Home and Family
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: A slapdash, patchy compilation with unnecessary padding and glaring omissions in practical sections, which could be of limited use for those looking at a book combining basic legal info regarding immigration to the UK with a source of knowledge for the citizenship test.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? No
Pages: 160 Date: August 2006
Publisher: How To Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1845280673

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Living and Working in the UK claims to be a source of all the practical information you need to live happily in the UK, whether you are a student, an expat or an HR professional intending to bring staff over.

Unfortunately, it's nothing of the sort. Most of its bulk is a compilation of information easily available in the public domain (the sources are scrupulously quoted) that at the first look seems excellent and comprehensive, but which, on more detailed perusal, is very, very disappointing.

It starts well, though. The introduction which covers the basics of UK's political history and UK as a member state of the EU (and which, I believe, is included as it contains knowledge required for the citizenship test) is well put together and informative if rather dry.

The second part covers the legal aspects of migration and presents all the different ways people can come to the UK to live and work (apart form the refugee route). I am not a lawyer and I can't judge how up to date the information is, but it's there. From reading the sections that would have been of relevance to me when I came to the UK I felt that it was also limited, dry and lacked any form of practical advice or tips.

As an example the chapter on marriage/fiancée visas is very short and does nothing but list the official information available form pretty much any UK consular outpost or immigration office. There is not even a suggestion or indication of how much you need to earn to assume to have "suitable funds", what the housing status needs to be, how you can use family members as sponsors or "guarantors" of your lack of recourse to public funds; and it doesn't mention what happens when you come to the UK as a tourist but decide to get married during your stay, what type of data and materials you might be asked to provide to prove that your marriage is genuine, or how long does the process take and how much it can cost if done abroad.

What follows the immigration part are five chapters of close to fifty pages devoted to employment in the UK, but the genuinely useful and specific information is rare.

The advice on 'where to find jobs' is, bluntly speaking, verging on useless. The section on recruitment agencies covers less than a page and is full of general platitudes like check that the agency is reputable without making any suggestion about how to assess this or mentioning any agencies by name either in connection with particular industries or companies nor listed by size or market share.

Newspapers are mentioned as source of jobs, and again it's mostly a few paragraphs of not very meaningful cliché. The book mentions - as an example - media jobs in the Guardian on Mondays while ignoring the huge Society section on Wednesdays or Higher Education on Tuesdays. The same space could be much more usefully employed to list the main categories of jobs advertised in main broadsheets on particular days.

Comparatively many pages (30+) of the guide are devoted to writing a CV, preparing for and attending an interview. I can't really imagine what the purpose of this information is unless it's simply included because one of the authors had some materials ready and wanted to pad the resulting product. There is almost nothing in those pages that points out UK specifics or warns about particular aspects of the process. One thing that comes to my mind is, for example, what always seemed to me to be an almost obsessive interest on the side of British recruiters in "gaps" in one's CV and corresponding lengths to which applicants would go to disguise or explain those "gaps". I am not implying that it's an item that should have been specifically mentioned as it might be only relevant to a very limited number of readers, but if not that one, there must be others while just about the only culturally-specific piece of information I identified was that a photograph is not necessary (or customary) when applying for a job in the UK.

The chapter on studying in the UK seems reasonable, though it fails to mention English Language courses and associated visa and employment issues.

The intro to employment law, NI, personal taxation, VAT and starting a business are sufficient as a starting point, though I would have liked a specific section devoted to being self employed (there is some information on that but it's in several places in the book).

Altogether, where the guide compiles official and particularly legal information combining it with a bare minimum of practical advice, it does an adequate job and could thus possibly work as a basic reference for somebody occasionally dealing with expats or immigrants as part of their work. But so could one or two Google searches.

Where the Living and Working in the UK fails most noticeably is in the practical advice chapters (apart from the CV/interview ones which are pretty decent but don't really belong in this book, at least in the form provided).

There is some reasonable if fairly obvious advice on childcare, especially in the early years, though an au pair institution is not mentioned, but the rest of the education chapter is very slapdash. Despite promises to the contrary, it does not provide an overview of education system in the UK.

It contains tips on how to make the first school days easier (which would apply as much in the UK as in most other places on Earth) and gives information on the English National Curriculum (without mentioning the Scottish equivalent), but it never actually says that schooling is compulsory in the UK from five years of age and only briefly mentions reception classes.

Moreover, it doesn't list even the most common stages of schooling with associated ages (primary-secondary, or infant-junior-secondary), doesn't mention grammar schools or anything to do with selection (11+, streaming), claims that faiths schools are for those who have a strong faith (while a lot of "normal" primary education is provided by CoE schools in some areas and they welcome children form all background), doesn't deal with catchment areas and parental choice and, unbelievably but truly, doesn't even list the most common school-leaving qualifications of GCSE/A-levels/Highers. Instead, it uses almost a page for term dates for 2006-2007 (for an unspecified area of the country) and devotes a bizarre one and half page to school uniforms.

The chapter on accommodation is better then the education one, but still patchy. For some reason, this chapter is also the most London-centric and uses London specifics and references throughout. This leads to facts of questionable nature (eg it's true that most smaller flats, especially in London and other big cities, are let furnished, but exactly opposite applies to houses and general family accommodation).

The info on introduction to buying is adequate, while there is some unnecessary repetition and glaring omissions as far as renting goes. The most glaring of those is no mention of the infamous Assured Shorthold Tenancy, a bedrock of a rental market in which anything even resembling security of tenure is non-existent and in which, at least legally, landlords are heavily favoured over tenants.

The chapter on NHS is mostly fine, though, again, it fails to mention that universal provision of free healthcare does not extend to dental (in the whole of UK) and optician's (less so in Scotland) services.

The chapter entitled Useful Information does, indeed, provide a relative treasure trove of information, from money and tipping to how to get a bank account, who is entitled to vote, climate and temperatures, voltage and the main religions, though it suffers from the same slapdash patchiness and mixes a surplus of unnecessarily detailed or quickly dated information with inexplicable gaps.

As an example it makes a point that building societies are substantially different from banks, (while for any day to day practical purposes, it's completely irrelevant and might just muddle the incomers). For some inexplicable reason most of one page is taken by completely out of date table of Royal Mail postal charges (pre-introduction of Letter, Large Letter & packet division) and the chapter on media deals exclusively with business ones and even in the list of websites doesn't mention major UK newspapers, TV or radio stations. And there is the following sub-section, reproduced there in its entirety:

What To Wear In The UK

If you come from a warm climate, you may find it uncomfortable to wear heavy winter clothing.

It all concludes with the general overview of "culture shock", interesting in itself but with not a single reference to UK specifics. In fact, Living and Working in the UK doesn't address any issues to do with the culture of the country: from what and when is celebrated to topics of conversation, from forms of address to polite manners, from personal space to meals and foods, from taboos to fads, from class to sex, shopping to drinking: it's not there. Rough Guides do a few intro pages and and Xenophobes Guides do it tongue in cheek on less than a hundred small and illustrated ones (and with jokes).

I was very disappointed with this guide: a look at first chapters and the table of contents was very promising, but on reading on, it failed to deliver. It bears all the marks of a compilation thrown together with little thought and even less effort from what was handily available.

Its strongest points are the first two parts, and there are some decent chapters and bits of useful information dotted throughout the rest, but from part three onwards it's terribly uneven and cannot be recommended to anybody apart perhaps from those looking at a book combining basic legal info regarding immigration to the UK with a source of knowledge for the citizenship test.

The review copy was sent to the Bookbag by the publisher - thank you!

Magda Healey first came to the UK from Poland to improve her English in 1992 and liked it so much she stayed for eighteen months instead of her visa-allotted six. She fell in love with a Brit in 1996 and since then has moved back and forth between Poland and the UK several times. She worked in Britain as an employee, temp and a self-employed contractor; rented rooms in shared houses, bedsits, flats and houses both furnished an unfurnished; paid taxes and claimed benefits; got married, learned to drive, bore two British children and recently got round to obtaining her first ever UK passport almost 10 years after swearing allegiance to the Queen. She's still baffled by separate taps for hot and cold water and doesn't understand that you need to go out the moment the sun shows through the cloud, because even in July it might not last.

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