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https://educationhub.blog.gov.uk/2022/04/28/essay-mills-are-now-illegal-skills-minister-calls-on-internet-service-providers-to-crack-down-on-advertising/

Essay mills are now illegal - Skills Minister calls on internet service platforms to crack down on advertising

essay writing illegal uk

Skills Minister Alex Burghart has written to internet service platforms to make sure they know that essay mills - which facilitate cheating by helping academic writing, often by appearing to be legitimate - have been made illegal and to call on their support in making sure they can no longer advertise online. Here you can read that letter.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has become law. Through this act, the Government has legislated for landmark reforms that will transform post-16 education and skills, including criminalising essay mills.

As you may know, Essay Mills are online platforms that facilitate contract cheating. Contract cheating happens when a third party completes work for a student which is passed off by the student as their own work. Many essay mill companies use marketing techniques which indicate they are offering ‘legitimate’ academic writing support for students. Reports also indicate that some essay mills seek to blackmail students who use these services. It is right that we have legislated against these insidious crimes.

It is now a criminal offence to provide or arrange for another person to provide contract cheating services for financial gain to students taking a qualification at a post-16 institution or sixth form in England, enrolled at a higher education provider in England and any other person over compulsory school age who has been entered for a regulated qualification at a place in England.

Similarly, it is now an offence for a person to make arrangements for an advertisement in which that person offers, or is described as being available or competent, to provide or arrange for another person to provide a cheating service. Importantly, the offence centres around the act of advertising to students, and for the offence to be committed it does not need to be seen by its target demographic.

There is now a strengthened, collaborative effort across the sector to tackle essay mills and we want you to be part of this campaign. Platforms such as yourself play an integral role in helping us to make the most effective use of the legislation; marketing and advertising are the lifeblood of any successful industry. We are aware that high numbers of essay mills have used your platform to promote their services to students in the past, paying for advertising to promote their companies. Essay mills are now illegal entities, and you should not carry their advertising. It is no longer a moral question; you will be facilitating an illegal activity. I ask you to do everything in your power to prevent the advertising these unscrupulous practices.

Removing essay mill access to online marketing will seriously hamper their efforts to target vulnerable students and I implore you to do so following the introduction of this legislation. We must now all work together to capitalise on it.

I hope that in writing to you today I have underlined the urgency of this issue and the important role that companies like yours play in stamping out essay mills once and for all and am sure I can be confident in your support.

Thank you for your support with this important matter.

Tags: cheating , essay mills , internet service platforms

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Important notice: Essay writing services now illegal in the UK

Following a government reform, it is now illegal to use and/or provide contract cheating services.

On Thursday 28 April 2022, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill became law, making it a criminal offence to engage in paid cheating services, often known as essay mills.

Essay mills offer students in Post-16 education plagiarism free essays and assignments in exchange for money.

The government has listened to calls for legislation and intervened to criminalise the provision of, and advertising of, cheating services. This aims to minimise the number of these essay mills in operation and to enhance activity already taking place to detect, deter and address incidents of cheating.

EssayMillsMAIN

In a letter to Higher Education (HE) providers , Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Skills, Alex Burghart MP said: “Cheating of any kind is unacceptable. It not only threatens to undermine the reputation of our world-class higher education sector, but also devalues the hard work of those who succeed on their own merit.”

The university takes academic offences very seriously. Submitting work that is not your own can lead to expulsion.

We want to ensure that all DMU students are following academic regulations, which we outline  here .

The Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLaSS) team work with undergraduate, postgraduate and research students at DMU to provide support and guidance on a range of areas, such as planning assignments, how to approach critical analysis and how to improve your research and referencing.

You can access the CLaSS services here .

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Essay writing services now illegal

Under new UK legislation, providing or using professional essay writing services, or 'essay mills', is now a criminal offence. Students have been made aware of this via today's Student News. They have also been advised that using these services directly contravenes the University's code of conduct. If students are found to be using professional writing services, or passing off other people's work as their own, they will face serious disciplinary action. There are a range of resources available to students about  study skills and avoiding plagiarism  on the Oxford Students website. Colleagues are asked to reinforce these messages to students in their parts of the University.

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UK to ban 'essay mills' in sweeping post-16 education reforms

British government announces plan to crack down on 'cheating services'.

It will soon be a criminal offence in England to provide, arrange or advertise essay-writing services for financial gain to students. Photo: Martin-DM

It will soon be a criminal offence in England to provide, arrange or advertise essay-writing services for financial gain to students. Photo: Martin-DM

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Commercial essay-writing services for students, or "essay mills", are set to be banned in England under plans to protect the academic integrity and standards of post-16 education, the UK government said on Tuesday.

It intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise such services to university and college students for financial gain.

Making essay mills illegal under new legislation will help to protect students from falling prey to the "deceptive marketing techniques of contract cheating services", the Department for Education said.

"Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do," said UK Skills Minister Alex Burghart.

"We are taking steps to ban these cheating services."

The move was welcomed by Universities UK which said it had "repeatedly called for essay-writing services to be made illegal".

"While the use of essay mills by students is rare, all universities have codes of conduct that include severe penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own," it said.

"Universities have become increasingly experienced at dealing with such issues and are engaging with students from day one to underline the implications of cheating and how it can be avoided."

Banning essay mills is one of several measures being introduced to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which aims to transform further and technical education.

Careers education in schools will be strengthened to ensure all pupils have opportunities to learn about all technical education options available to them, including apprenticeships, T-levels and traineeships.

The law will also be changed to give equality to technical education in careers advice in schools, so all pupils understand the wide range of routes and training available to them, not just academic options.

Other amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which enters its report stage in the House of Lords on October 12, include allowing more faith school providers to open post-16 academies with a religious character.

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‘Unethical’ essay mills to be banned in England under Government plans

essay writing illegal uk

Essay mills are set to be banned in England under plans to reform post-16 education.

The Government intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise essay-writing services for financial gain to university and college students.

Making essay mills illegal under new legislation will help protect students from falling prey to the “deceptive marketing techniques of contract cheating services”, the Department for Education (DfE) has said.

It is one of a number of measures being introduced to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – which aims to transform further and technical education.

Careers education in schools will also be strengthened to ensure all pupils have opportunities to learn about all the technical education options available to them – including apprenticeships, T-levels and traineeships.

Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do

Skills Minister Alex Burghart

Skills Minister Alex Burghart said: “Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do.

“We are taking steps to ban these cheating services.

“We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them.”

Essay mills, which are already illegal in some countries, make money by encouraging students to cheat in assessments.

Their services include providing students with ready-made essays to pass off as their own.

The Government hopes banning the services will help to safeguard the academic integrity and standards of post-16 and higher education in England.

It comes after former universities minister Chris Skidmore called for essay mill websites to be outlawed in February this year.

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In June, the Government pledged to work with politicians on proposed legislation around banning essay-writing services.

Tory frontbencher Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay told peers there is a “strong case” to support institutions in dealing with the rising number of essay mills.

The law will also be changed to give equality to technical education in careers advice in schools, so all pupils understand the wide range of routes and training available to them, not just academic routes.

Additional amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which enters its report stage in the House of Lords on October 12, includes allowing more faith school providers to open post-16 academies with a religious character.

A Universities UK (UUK) spokeswoman said: “We welcome this news. UUK has repeatedly called for essay writing services to be made illegal and we have worked together with Government, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and other higher education bodies to tackle their use.

“While the use of essay mills by students is rare, all universities have codes of conduct that include severe penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own.

“Universities have become increasingly experienced at dealing with such issues and are engaging with students from day-one to underline the implications of cheating and how it can be avoided.”

Gareth Crossman, head of policy and public affairs at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), said: “We’re delighted that the DfE has agreed to outlaw these unscrupulous outfits that threaten the integrity of UK higher education and prey on vulnerable students, and hope other UK Governments will also take action.

“This sends a clear signal but, with well over 1000 essay mills in operation, the sector must continue working together to put them out of business.”

A spokesperson for the National Union of Students (NUS) said: “These private companies prey on students’ vulnerabilities and insecurities to make money through exploitation, and never more so than during the pandemic.

“NUS has called on the Government to take action against them in the past, and I hope they are finally listening.

“In the meantime, we would urge universities to put in place academic and pastoral support so that students are never in the position of feeling they have to turn to essay mills in the first place.”

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Paid essay writing services to be made illegal as government brands it 'cheating'

  • Tuesday 5 October 2021 at 8:12pm

essay writing illegal uk

Getting somebody else to write an essay for you in exchange for money will soon be made illegal in England.

So-called 'essay mills' see students paying money to a service and getting an essay back in return - allowing the pupil to submit an assignment without necessarily having done the work.

Students can stipulate the topic, number of pages and the timeframe.

The ban will make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise these services to any students in post-16 and higher education .

Minister for Skills Alex Burghart said: “Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do. We are taking steps to ban these cheating services.

“We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them.”

The move comes as part of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

Banning charged essay writing services will safeguard the academic integrity and standards of educational institutions in England, the government said.

Ministers insist it will protect students from falling prey to the deceptive marketing techniques of contract cheating services.

The bill will enter its report stage in the House of Lords next Tuesday.

essay writing illegal uk

‘Unethical’ essay mills to be banned in England under Government plans

Making essay-writing services illegal will protect students from ‘deceptive marketing techniques of contract cheating services’, the DfE says.

essay writing illegal uk

Essay mills are set to be banned in England under plans to reform post-16 education.

The Government intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise essay-writing services for financial gain to university and college students.

Making essay mills illegal under new legislation will help protect students from falling prey to the “deceptive marketing techniques of contract cheating services”, the Department for Education (DfE) has said.

It is one of a number of measures being introduced to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – which aims to transform further and technical education.

Careers education in schools will also be strengthened to ensure all pupils have opportunities to learn about all the technical education options available to them – including apprenticeships, T-levels and traineeships.

“We are taking steps to ban these cheating services.

“We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them.”

Essay mills, which are already illegal in some countries, make money by encouraging students to cheat in assessments.

Their services include providing students with ready-made essays to pass off as their own.

The Government hopes banning the services will help to safeguard the academic integrity and standards of post-16 and higher education in England.

It comes after former universities minister Chris Skidmore called for essay mill websites to be outlawed in February this year.

In June, the Government pledged to work with politicians on proposed legislation around banning essay-writing services.

Tory frontbencher Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay told peers there is a “strong case” to support institutions in dealing with the rising number of essay mills.

The law will also be changed to give equality to technical education in careers advice in schools, so all pupils understand the wide range of routes and training available to them, not just academic routes.

Additional amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which enters its report stage in the House of Lords on October 12, includes allowing more faith school providers to open post-16 academies with a religious character.

A Universities UK (UUK) spokeswoman said: “We welcome this news. UUK has repeatedly called for essay writing services to be made illegal and we have worked together with Government, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and other higher education bodies to tackle their use.

“While the use of essay mills by students is rare, all universities have codes of conduct that include severe penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own.

“Universities have become increasingly experienced at dealing with such issues and are engaging with students from day-one to underline the implications of cheating and how it can be avoided.”

Gareth Crossman, head of policy and public affairs at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), said: “We’re delighted that the DfE has agreed to outlaw these unscrupulous outfits that threaten the integrity of UK higher education and prey on vulnerable students, and hope other UK Governments will also take action.

“This sends a clear signal but, with well over 1000 essay mills in operation, the sector must continue working together to put them out of business.”

A spokesperson for the National Union of Students (NUS) said: “These private companies prey on students’ vulnerabilities and insecurities to make money through exploitation, and never more so than during the pandemic.

“NUS has called on the Government to take action against them in the past, and I hope they are finally listening.

“In the meantime, we would urge universities to put in place academic and pastoral support so that students are never in the position of feeling they have to turn to essay mills in the first place.”

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Essay-Writing Services To Be Made Illegal In England

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Essay-writing services, known as essay mills, are to be made illegal under plans announced by the government on 5 October 2021.

The government intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange, or advertise any essay-writing services for financial gain to students taking a qualification at any institution in England providing post-16 education, including universities.

The move follows a number of steps already taken by the government to protect academic integrity from the effect of essay mills. In 2018, 46 university vice-chancellors wrote a joint letter calling for essay-writing services to banned, and the government worked with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, Universities UK and the National Union of Students to produce guidance on how institutions could counter the threat of contract cheating, and for students to make them better aware of the consequences (which might include removal from their course of study or expulsion from their place of study). The latest efforts to outlaw essay mills and other ‘contract cheating' has been welcomed by members of all parties and across the education industry, and hailed as safeguarding the academic integrity and standards of post-16 and higher education in England as well as protecting young people during their studies.

The  Skills and Post-16 Education Bill  (the ‘ Bill ') introduces this measure as a means to protect students from the “deceptive marking techniques of contract cheating services”. The Bill also aims to help level up opportunities across the country by transforming the existing educational landscape: alternative training and career routes, such as technical education, apprenticeships, T Levels or traineeships, are to be emphasised and given equal status alongside the traditional academic route (as set out in the  Skills for Jobs White Paper ).

Essay mills – given that they profit from committing academic fraud – are largely considered to be unethical, though they remain lawful in most countries. The UK follows in the footsteps of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland by taking action against contract cheating.

Ghostwriting services are active globally, and often target students who are studying in a second language. The rise in demand for such services are likely the result of increased competition for university places, especially where coursework and open-book exams contribute to pivotal final grades. Ironically, these services encourage a lack of scholarship that sets students up poorly for further education.

The online learning environment that developed as a result of stay-at-home mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic meant that students became increasingly vulnerable to the lures of essay-writing services. As campus welfare and support became less accessible to students working remotely from home and motivation throughout the academic year dwindled as Zoom-fatigue set in, levels of online cheating exploded: the Quality Assurance Agency estimated in 2021 that there are at least 932 sites in operation in the UK, up from 904 in December 2020, 881 in October 2020 and 635 in June 2018. More brazenly, there are examples of essay mill service providers taking advantage of the difficult circumstances faced by students during the pandemic by offering 2-4-1 deals and other special offers to ‘help' students navigate a difficult and unusual few academic years.

While the proposals in the Bill are welcome, the measures do not amount to a full solution to online cheating. The International Journal for Educational Integrity has highlighted the increasing number of ways in which students wishing to circumvent rules on academic honesty may do so using technology. For example, the use of file-sharing websites to request assistance from others and receive answers to exam questions – in real time and during exam conditions – has risen by an estimated 196% in the year 2020-21 in STEM subjects. The Bill does not extend to Wales or Scotland, for whom education is a devolved matter: essay mills may yet target UK schools and universities and see plenty reason to maintain operations.

Gareth Crossman, head of policy and public affairs at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, has touched on the length of the journey ahead, saying: “[the Bill] sends a clear signal but, with well over 1000 essay mills in operation, the sector must continue working together to put them out of business.” Only time will tell whether the measures, when implemented, are effective, and whether the government needs to go further to protect students from predatory academic practices in future.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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NEWS... BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT

The rise of Essay Writing Services: A look at the ethics, legality, criticisms and defences of the VERY controversial industry

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The history of academic cheating is as long as the history of schools and universities themselves.

In ancient China, even the threat of the death penalty for cheating was not enough to put young scholars off trying any tactics that they could think of to get an advantage in the all-important civil service exams.

In the modern world, cheating at school or university is a lot less risky and also much easier. Google “essay writing services”, and you’ll get 3.7 million hits back in less than half a second.

Behind those hits are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies and individuals around the world offering to take the stress out of school or university by writing your essays for you.

Given the ease of accessing such services, it is no surprise that they are increasingly popular with stressed students who are struggling with the demands of their courses.

But just how common is so-called “contract cheating” becoming? In 2018, Professor Phil Newton of Swansea University set out to answer that question.

He went through forty years of surveys of students internationally to see how many of them admitted to getting someone else to write an essay for them. The results sent shockwaves through the academic community.

In the years 1978 to 2014, just under one in twenty students would admit to cheating like that. But in the years between 2014 and 2018, that number shot up to more than one in seven.

Doing the maths, Professor Newton calculated that around 31 million students around the world (including hundreds of thousands in the UK)  were getting someone else to write at least one essay for them each year.

In the five years since that study was completed, the situation seems to have got worse. Much worse according to Dr Thomas Lancaster of Imperial College London, the academic who coined the phrase “contract cheating” in the first place.

The rise of Essay Writing Services: A look at the ethics, legality, criticisms and defences of the VERY controversial industry

Dr Lancaster claims that the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shift of education online have driven even more students to turn to the internet in search of essay writing services.

At the same time, the rise of sophisticated plagiarism detection software has made it much harder for students to just directly copy someone else’s essay.

But contract cheating gets around that by hiring someone else to produce an original piece of work, which can be almost guaranteed to pass the plagiarism detectors with flying colours.

According to research by Channel 4 , students in the UK using essay writing services have a less than 1% chance of being found out by their university. 

The scale of the problem is clear. But it is not clear what can be done about it. So, we take a deep dive into this murky industry: identifying the different types of essay writing services and looking at the legal and ethical issues around using them.

We also look at the arguments in defence of essay writing services and highlight the solutions that could help prevent students from needing to use them in the first place.

Understanding essay writing services

Essay writing is a thriving industry that comes in a wide variety of different forms. The basic principle is that a student pays a company or an individual to write an essay for them.

At one end of the scale are huge companies like Write My Essay , which offer highly professional essays (which they can then submit as their own work).

At the other end are individual freelancers, who can be found on websites such as Upwork and Fiverr, who will create bespoke essays for their clients.

Such websites have rules forbidding academic cheating, but they don’t appear to be enforced, with job adverts requesting essay writing services regularly posted on the platforms.

In between the very big companies and the individual freelancers are the many so-called “essay mills”, that specialise in churning out original content for students.

The companies normally have websites that are more or less frank about what they are doing. Some claim to be offering simply “educational support” by providing a sample essay that should inspire a student rather than giving them something that they can just pretend is their own work.

Essay writing services vary enormously in price, but research by Dr Thomas Lancaster has shown that sourcing essays direct from individual writers can be very affordable for students.

The average price for a 2,000-word essay is just over $11, with most of the writers providing such services coming from Kenya, Pakistan and Nigeria. Further research by the same author found that students on Twitter are willing to pay up to $66 for a 2,000-word essay.

Are essay writing services illegal?

Hiring someone to write an essay for you might be cheating but does that actually make it illegal? The answer to that question varies depending on which country you are in.

In many places, including most US states, using an essay writing service is actually perfectly legal . The reason for that is that such services only claim to be providing students with sample essays so present themselves as simply online tutors.

However, governments are coming under increasing pressure from universities to use the law to clamp down on the problem, and an increasing number have responded by making such services illegal.

New Zealand was one of the pioneers in such legislation, leading the way in legislating against essay mills. Other places that have already done the same include Australia, Ireland and several US states.

In April 2022, the UK government followed suit. Now it is illegal to either provide or use essay writing services in the UK . As of June 2023, no actual criminal charges have been brought against anyone under the new legislation.

Perhaps recognising the difficulty in enforcing this law, the British government has written to internet search engines and service providers asking them to “do everything in your power to prevent the advertising of these unscrupulous practices”. Nevertheless, a simple search on google.co.uk will return thousands of hits for various companies.

Even in those countries that have not yet banned essay writing services, submitting someone else’s work as your own is certainly a breach of university and college policies.

So, while students in most US states might not face criminal charges for using such a service, they are very likely to find themselves facing serious penalties from their institution. Such penalties could go as far as seeing them kicked off their course. 

Still, given the difficulties in detecting content that has been written by a third party for a student to submit, that’s a risk that many are prepared to take.

Research has shown that up to 50% of students would consider cheating as long as they were confident that they could get away with it.  

Ethical Aspects

Regardless of whether essay writing services are legal in a particular country, serious questions remain about the ethics of getting someone else to do your work for you.

After all, degrees are awarded on the basis of a student’s intelligence and ability to work hard and give them privileged access to jobs and other opportunities as a result. So, surely, it’s wrong to steal an advantage over your more honest peers by just paying someone to do the work for you?

Another ethical consideration is that if students are cheating to gain qualifications does that mean that they might get a job that they are not really qualified for?

And how much more serious do those ethical questions become if, for example, someone is qualifying as a doctor on the basis of work that someone else did for them? In such cases, academic cheating can have serious real-world consequences in terms of impacting patient safety.

Essay writing companies have also been accused of preying on vulnerable students and encouraging dependency on their services.

By doing so, they prevent those students from developing the knowledge and critical thinking skills that are supposed to be the whole point of education. Other concerns have been raised about the fact that essay writing services expose students to the risk of blackmail.

In defence of essay writing services

Nevertheless, despite all the legal and ethical charges levied against them, essay writing services do have their defenders.

Some see them as essential services for stressed out students who are unable to cope with the pressure of having to submit too many assignments, especially when they are using them for subjects that they do not intend to major in.

Others have argued that in the real world after university, people will always collaborate with others and commission them to do work, so why shouldn’t they do the same during their academic careers?

Some commentators have stated that modern students have been brought up in a sharing economy with unlimited access to the resources they need online, so why shouldn’t they use essay writing services too?

Other arguments have focused on the struggles of students who are non-native speakers of English.

Many foreign speakers travel to English-speaking countries to complete their education and use essay writing services to overcome the stresses and difficulties of studying in a foreign language and to put themselves on the same playing field as their peers.

Other students find themselves forced to study in English even when in their own country, which can again prompt them to try to level the playing field by turning to essay writing services.

The basic thrust of many of the arguments that defend such services is that they are filling gaps that the university itself should be filling.

If universities provided proper support, less students would need to turn to essay writing services in the first place.  

Prevention and solutions

So, what can be done to prevent the rise of essay writing services? As the arguments in defence of such services suggest, universities can do more to support students, especially those who are not native speakers or who have learning difficulties.

More academic and pastoral support could reduce students’ reliance on contract cheating. For example, overstressed students should be encouraged to speak with their tutors to request the extra time that they might need to complete assignments, which would prevent them from turning to essay writing services in the days before their deadline.

There are also technical solutions emerging that might prevent students from using such services.

As Dr Lancaster has explained , such technology works by “identifying how we all write. We’ve all got a unique style and it shows in how complex our language is, the words we use too much, indicators like that. If you suddenly then hand in something written with a different writing style, that’s suspicious.”

Finally, more might need to be done to explain to students the importance of not using such services and the ethical issues involved in their use.

As Dr Grant Klinkum of New Zealand’s Qualifications Authority, has said, “Some of our values, based on some Renaissance idea of the value and importance of intellectual endeavour and so on, may not be shared by increasing numbers of students… This is not about immoral students. This is about varied values.”

As we have seen, essay writing services are thriving, despite increasing attempts to clamp down on them through legislation.

Despite all the ethical issues surrounding their use, desperate students will turn to them, especially because there is little chance of them getting caught.

What do you think? Should more be done to prevent students from using essay writing services and to crack down harder on those who do?

Or should we focus on the positive sides of such services and see them as just another aspect of modern education that helps students to learn and develop? Whatever your answers to those questions, it seems certain that essay writing services are here to stay, and some students will continue to use them for as long as they can get away with it.

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Student writing essay

Essay writing services must be banned to stop cheating, say academics

One in seven students globally believed to have paid others to do their assignments for them

The British government has been urged to outlaw essay writing services that allow university students to pay for coursework for their degrees, after a study found that use of “contract cheating” is rapidly increasing around the world.

The study by Prof Philip Newton at Swansea University’s medical school collected evidence from surveys taken among students in higher education, and calculated that as many as one in seven recent students internationally have paid for someone to produce their assignments, potentially representing 31 million students.

While there is little detail of the involvement of UK-based students, Newton said that students in Britain were unlikely to be any different from their peers in the US and elsewhere, and warned that the UK “risks becoming a country where essay mills find it easy to do business”.

“There are a number of things the government could do to make contract cheating more difficult. The legal steps would probably include a new law – it’s not difficult, other countries such as New Zealand have done it and others like Ireland and Australia are thinking about it,” Newton said.

Staff at British universities regularly report essay-writing services openly advertising for both clients and writers on campus, while numerous websites offer students bespoke “study notes” or “essay aids” for a fee that runs into thousands of pounds depending on the length and deadline.

Essay mills also trawl social media, with automated accounts contacting students who post about essay deadlines and work panic.

Newton is one of a number of British academics who have warned of the dangers of “essay mills,” where students are able to order essays, dissertations or even doctoral theses with as little as eight or 12 hours’ notice. More than 2,000 people have signed a petition to parliament calling for a ban.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Education , analysed 71 survey samples from 65 studies from as far back as 1978, covering 54,000 participants who took part in questionnaires asking if they had ever paid someone to undertake their work.

Across the sample, contract cheating was self-reported by a long-run average of 3.5% of students but that rate was found to increase significantly over time. In studies from 2014 onwards, the percentage admitting to paying for work rose to nearly 16%, while cheating in general also appeared to be on the rise.

“There is an urgent need for a rigorous study to identify the extent of the problem in the UK. There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest the UK is as affected as everyone else,” Newton said, adding that surveys were if anything likely to underestimate the extent of the problem.

The government has recently acknowledged the issue. In a written answer to the Gower MP Tonia Antoniazzi in July, the higher education minister Sam Gyimah said: “We are currently focusing on non-legislative options, but remain open to the future need for legislation, and will investigate all options available.”

Newton and his colleagues have proposed a new offence, “to provide or advertise cheating services”, including writing or arranging an essay or other work without the approval of the higher education institution requiring the work.

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This article was updated by the Great British Mag content team on 20 October 2021. 

Have you seen essay writing agencies advertised and been tempted to give them a try? Keep reading to get a better understanding of what essay writing agencies are, how they work and the implications of using them can have on your university education. 

What are essay writing agencies?

As a student, you probably have essay writing agencies very much on your radar. They advertise themselves relentlessly to university goers and seem to offer the perfect solution to tight deadlines.

If their marketing attempts have passed you by so far, a quick Google will pull up countless agencies that promise high-quality easy writing, editing and proofreading services for all levels of higher education. 

For a fee, you can give the agency your essay title and any details you have on what should be included in the content, and they’ll have one of their writers complete it for you within a matter of days.

Are they legal to use?

The UK government announced in June 2021 that it is putting legislation in place to make essay writing agencies that provide pre-written or custom-made essays for students to present as their own illegal. England is leading on implementing these changes. 

Do universities prohibit the use of essay writing agencies?

Absolutely – and they take it very seriously. In fact, there have been several calls over recent years from university leaders for the government to ban ‘essay mills’ (which the agencies are sometimes known as) entirely. In some countries like New Zealand, they’re actually illegal. 

That said, some essay writing agencies frame themselves as providing educational support, in the same way that a private tutor might. They state that the essays they provide aren’t for handing in and passing off as your own work, but for using as a basis from which to research and write your own essay. That makes the legal waters murkier. 

What do universities consider as cheating?

Handing in work that has been completed by someone else is definitely considered cheating – this includes getting a friend or family member to write your coursework for you, as well as going to an essay writing agency. 

Despite this, a   study by Swansea University revealed more students than ever were paying for third parties to write their essays. It found that potentially as many as one in seven recent graduates from around the globe, which equates to around 31 million, had engaged in cheating in this way. 

Indeed, a poll on Instagram that we recently ran suggested that around 25% of our student followers had handed in an essay that they didn’t write themselves. 

Covid-19 seems to have caused an uptick in people using these services too, says Dr Thomas Lancaster , senior teaching fellow at Imperial College London, who has conducted several studies on the topic and actually coined the term ‘contract cheating’, which is what this form of cheating is often referred to as. 

“The pandemic hasn’t helped with the situation. From my own research, we’re seeing many more requests for contract cheating services now than we were before Covid-19 disrupted the sector,” he says. 

With students having to grapple with remote learning, a lack of access to libraries and less face-to-face teaching time, it’s no wonder that more are resorting to using essay-writing services. But no matter the circumstances that cause people to turn to this kind of servive, it’s very much still considered to be cheating. 

How much do essay writing services charge?

This varies hugely depending on the agency, the academic level the essay is for and how close the deadline is. We’ve seen services advertised from as little as £4 for a 2:2 level essay with a long deadline, and up to £260 for a 3,000 assignment with a quick turnaround. 

It’s worth remembering that if a deal on an essay writing agency website sounds too good to be true, it likely is. The cheapest companies will often use writers from overseas whose written English might not be up to scratch. That could not only impact the quality of the essay, but also make it obvious that it’s been written by someone else. 

How likely am I to get caught? 

In all honesty, identifying paid-for essays isn’t easy for university professors. Even if a university does have its suspicions, it’s not a straightforward offence to prove. That said, it’s certainly not impossible – and with cases on the up, more university staff are on high alert of fraudulent submissions.

There is new technology emerging too, specifically designed to detect essays written by third parties. And it’s improving all the time, says Lancaster.

“It works by identifying how we all write. We’ve all got a unique style and it shows in how complex our language is, the words we use too much, indicators like that. If you suddenly then hand in something written with a different writing style, that’s suspicious. 

“There are quite a few detection methods in development that show promise and often there are all sorts of little clues that the university can piece together and use to work out whether the student is submitting work they have done themselves.”

What will happen if I am caught?

Getting caught is perhaps the biggest risk you run – it could ruin your university career. 

While each university is responsible for setting out its own procedure for dealing with cheating (you’ll likely find a page about it on your university’s website), be warned that they all take it very seriously. It’s considered a major violation of academic standards. 

Think about it: for institutions to be handing out degrees to people who aren’t qualified is hugely problematic. They’re breaching the national standards of these respected qualifications, meaning their reputation and status as a higher education provider is very much at stake. 

If you’re suspected of cheating, it’s likely you’ll be interviewed and asked to provide evidence that you wrote the essay in question yourself (think notes and previous drafts). If the allegations hold up after that, it could result in a disciplinary hearing and, ultimately, your expulsion from the university. 

Yep, this is a serious offence and one that could cut your time at university very short. 

What are the other risks?

Expulsion isn’t the only risk you run if you decide to hand in an essay that you didn’t write.  First, of course, there is no guarantee as to the quality of the essay you’ll be supplied with by the agency – you could easily still fail. 

“The writers who work for these agencies tend to be badly paid, so their incentive is to write as quickly as possible, not produce high-quality work,” says Lancaster. “They’ll take shortcuts. They add meaningless content to pad out the word count and make up references.”

So don’t be shocked if, after forking out for a professional writer to secure you a great grade, you still flunk. 

Then there’s the issue that by not studying for one piece of coursework you’re on the back foot for the next assignment – and the next. 

“Students become dependent on these services,” says Lancaster. “They’ve missed out on the learning. And once they’re on a company’s customer list, they’re going to be receiving marketing messages again and again.”

Yes, there is the chance that you pay for an essay, get a killer grade and live happily ever after – but there’s also a lot that can go wrong. 

What should I do if I’m struggling with my studies? 

If you’re struggling with your studies and feeling overwhelmed, talk to your university. There might be ways that they can support you and help ease the strain you’re feeling over coursework and deadlines. You may not need to risk your university career by buying your coursework.  

If it’s the language aspect that is causing you stress and making essay-writing a nightmare for you, then speak to your university – they may well have opportunities you can make the most of to improve your English, such as online courses. There will also be an International Student Support service at your uni, who can help with any non-academic issues that are getting in the way of your studies – everything from visa stresses to feeling at home in your new city. 

If you have any learning differences, like dyslexia, you might be entitled to extra support, so make sure your tutors are aware of the situation. The same goes for if you are experiencing personal problems that are impacting your learning – depending on the situation you might be offered more time to complete work, as well as other forms of help. 

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Irish law to clamp down on essay mills ‘could be model for UK’

Irish bill criminalising the provision and advertising of cheating services could hit google and facebook, experts predict.

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The Irish government has announced the publication of a bill that paves the way for the prosecution of essay mills, including making it illegal to advertise contract cheating services, with observers urging the UK’s nations to follow suit.

Ireland is the latest country taking legal steps to tackle the growing problem of companies that write essays for students for a fee. In 2011, New Zealand made it illegal to “advertise or provide third party assistance to cheat”, and there are similar laws in 17 states in the US.

Among the provisions of the Irish bill is one for Quality and Qualifications Ireland, the country’s quality assurance agency, to initiate the prosecution of “essay mills”.

In a statement to Times Higher Education , a spokesman for Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills said that the new Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill will make it an offence to provide cheating services, such as writing essays for students or sitting their exams.

It means that “those who advertise” such services “would also commit an offence, similarly, those who publish advertisements in relation to [those services] would also commit an offence”, the spokesman said. 

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Ireland’s minister for higher education, said that the legislation “will be initiated in the autumn”.

Thomas Lancaster, a senior teaching fellow in computing at Imperial College London , who has published research on essay mills, said that the bill was “an important development” in the drive to stamp them out.

“It is sending a strong message to providers of contract cheating that this is not acceptable, and it sends the same messages to the students considering using these methods,” he said. “It means we won’t see posters [advertising essay mills] getting on to campuses in Ireland and there is also some power to stop search engines such as Google or social media sites such as Facebook showing adverts for essay mills in the country. Though, of course, this will not apply to countries outside Ireland that do not have legislation.”

Dr Lancaster added: “Contract cheating is widespread, it has definitely increased over the past decade and the advertising is through the roof now...a bill like this would be so important for the UK too. People have tried to make these changes here but pushing legal responses through is difficult at the moment.”

In 2017, an amendment to the now Higher Education and Research Act proposed by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Storey, aimed at tackling essay mills, failed to make it into the legislation. But the Quality Assurance Agency recently convened a working group on academic integrity, which will make recommendations to the government on how to prevent contract cheating.

Gareth Crossman, head of policy and public affairs at the QAA, said that the group would be watching Ireland’s bill passage closely. “We’ve identified it as a priority work stream for the academic advisory group, with a view to seeing if criminal sanctions can be applied in the UK,” he said.

Phil Newton, director of learning and teaching at the Swansea University Medical School, who proposed legislation to tackle essay mills in a 2017 paper, said that the Irish bill showed that the nation's government was “working hard to do the right thing and learning from the challenges in implementing laws in other countries”. He added that while other countries are pressing forward, the UK “risks falling behind”.

“At end of the day, you put the law on the books, even if you get it exactly right and even with the best will in the world, you aren't going to have dozens of prosecutions,” Professor Newton said. “But what you are going to have is a conversation with your students that says ‘these services are illegal’ and that is a very different conversation to the one we have now.”

He added that a similar advertising ban in the UK would have helped to prevent the flurry of essay mill advertising that popped up on the London Underground in 2016.

“Obviously, it is important to have a law on the books that works – and all the signals are there that Ireland understands this – but at the moment in the UK we have nothing,” Professor Newton said. “The [essay mill] companies are all licensed to Companies House and they use that in their advertising. To take that away would be really powerful.”

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essay writing illegal uk

  • Entering and staying in the UK
  • Refugees, asylum and human rights

Irregular migration to the UK, year ending March 2024

  • Home Office

Published 23 May 2024

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© Crown copyright 2024

This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence v3.0 except where otherwise stated. To view this licence, visit nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3 or write to the Information Policy Team, The National Archives, Kew, London TW9 4DU, or email: [email protected] .

Where we have identified any third party copyright information you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders concerned.

This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/irregular-migration-to-the-uk-year-ending-march-2024/irregular-migration-to-the-uk-year-ending-march-2024

1. Introduction

This statistical release from the Home Office provides an overview of people who come to the UK irregularly. It includes those arriving on a small boat across the English Channel (a ‘small boat arrival’), along with some other groups arriving without prior lawful permission.

Some people may also enter the UK on regular routes and their status subsequently becomes irregular (for example, if they overstay their visa). Others may enter through an irregular method and remain undetected or will be detected some time after their arrival. Others may enter irregularly but obtain ‘regular’ status (for example, following an application for asylum).

The statistics presented here relate to the number of people detected on, or shortly after, arrival to the UK through various irregular methods of entry. They do not include all those who enter the UK through irregular methods, nor the number of irregular migrants currently present in the UK . It is not possible to know the exact number of people currently resident in the UK without permission, nor the total number of people who enter the UK irregularly.

Some people seek to enter the UK without valid permission but are prevented from reaching the UK border (for example, at the juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium, or further afield, if prevented from travelling). Prevented attempts are not reported in this release. Any counts of attempted entries may relate to multiple attempts by the same individual, and therefore will not relate to numbers of people.

Additional information is provided in the ‘ About the statistics ’ section and in the ‘ user guide ’.

2. Irregular arrivals

Not all arrivals will be detected and the proportion of arrivals detected will vary by method. Therefore, it is not advisable to directly compare recorded detections on different methods of entry. However, some broad trends can be observed.

In the year ending March 2024, there were 38,546 irregular arrivals, 28% fewer than in the year ending March 2023, and 81% of these arrived by small boats.

Small boats have been the predominant recorded method of entry for irregular arrivals since 2020, when entries by this method increased rapidly and entries by other methods declined (likely in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic making other methods of entry, such as air or ferry, less viable). Small boat arrivals are also the most visible of the irregular methods of entry, so the most likely to be recorded.

Small boat arrival numbers are subject to seasonal fluctuations due to changes in the weather, typically with peaks in warmer summer months (for example, quarter 3 (Q3), July to September, see figure 1). Comparisons of arrivals between the same months in different years may also be affected by differences in conditions. As a result we do not make comparisons between shorter periods where arrival numbers are low and may fluctuate considerably.

Figure 1: Detections at the UK border, by method of entry, January 2018 to March 2024

Source: Irregular migration to the UK - Irr_D01

2.1 Nationalities and demographics of arrivals

Since January 2018, 70% of people arriving irregularly have been adult males aged 18 and over.

Since 2018 just under one-fifth (19%) of irregular arrivals have been children aged 17 and under.

Financial, social, physical and geographical factors may influence the method of entry individuals use and the types of individuals detected arriving through each one. These factors may also change over time and could have an effect on any analysis of trends ( see Irr_D01 ).

Around one-sixth (17%) of irregular arrivals in the year ending March 2024 were Afghans, who were in the top 5 for all 4 entry methods.

However, the number of Afghan small boat arrivals has decreased by 36% in the year ending March 2024 (figure 2).

Table 1: Top 5 nationalities arriving for each irregular method of entry, in the year ending March 2024 1,2

  • The top nationalities are those with the highest number of irregular arrivals for each separate method of entry in the year ending March 2024.
  • Excludes small boat arrivals labelled as ‘Not currently recorded’ in the detailed and summary tables that accompany this release, for whom information on nationality is not yet available.

In the first 3 months (January to March) of 2024 there were 1,060 Vietnamese small boat arrivals, more arrivals than any other nationality. Although arrivals of Vietnamese nationals have been growing, Vietnam was ranked only the seventh amongst small boat nationalities in the year ending March 2024 and therefore is one of the ‘All other nationalities’ in figure 2 below (along with 76 others for the year ending March 2024).

Figure 2: Top nationalities arriving by small boats, April 2021 to March 2024 1,2

  • The top nationalities are those with the highest number of small boat arrivals since April 2021.
  • Excludes arrivals where information on nationality was not recorded in the dataset.

3. How many people were detected arriving by small boats?

3.1. number of people arriving by small boat.

Statistics on small boats include individuals who were detected on arrival to the UK, detected in the Channel and subsequently brought to the UK, and those encountered in the UK who were suspected of having arrived on a small boat within the previous 72 hours. They do not include any people who arrived on larger vessels (such as on a ferry), those who arrived in the UK undetected or those prevented from departing France or intercepted by French authorities and returned to France (see the ‘ user guide ’ for more details).

In the year ending March 2024, 31,079 people arrived by small boats, 31% fewer than in the year ending March 2023 (45,019) (and 32% fewer than the peak of 45,774 in 2022).

Although the comparison for the full year ending in March 2024 shows a year-on-year decrease, provisional data for the first 3 months of 2024 shows that the number of small boat arrivals from January to March 2024 was 43% higher than the same period in 2023. However, this period is one when arrival numbers are normally low due to the bad weather conditions and numbers of arrivals fluctuate considerably. Therefore, any comparison over this short period is unlikely to be robust.

Figure 3: Cumulative number of people arriving by small boats each month, January 2021 to March 2024

Source: Irregular migration to the UK summary tables - Irr_02a

3.2. Number of boats and people per boat

The average number of people per boat increased to 50 people per boat in the year ending March 2024, compared with an average of 43 people per boat in the year ending March 2023.

Figure 4: Number of small boats arriving and average number of people per boat, January 2018 to March 2024

In the year ending March 2024, 625 small boats arrived without permission, 41% fewer than the 1,054 in the year ending March 2023. Although the number of people and boats arriving have decreased, the average number of people per boat has continued to increase (figure 4 and table 2).

Table 2: Average number of people per boat, year ending March 2019 to year ending March 2024

4. Asylum claims from small boat arrivals

The majority of small boat arrivals claim asylum, but small boat arrivals accounted for just over one-third of the total number of people claiming asylum in the UK in the year ending March 2024.

In the year ending March 2024, 99% (29,510 of 29,909 arrivals) had an asylum claim recorded either as a main applicant or dependant, as of 16 April 2024 (table 3). Almost all (95%) of the asylum applications from small boat arrivals made in the year ending March 2024 were still undecided at the end of March 2024.

More recent arrivals will naturally have a higher proportion of asylum applications awaiting a decision, as less time has passed to allow for applications to be processed. For all small boat asylum applications since 2018, 37% (37,246) are awaiting a decision.

The majority of the cases still awaiting a decision will relate to people who arrived on or after 28 June 2022, following the actions taken to clear the ‘legacy’ backlog of older asylum applications and subsequent legal changes. Cases where the applicant arrived irregularly since 7 March 2023 fall under the criteria for the Illegal Migration Act. Since 20 July 2023, when the Illegal Migration Bill received royal assent and became the Illegal Migration Act, there have been no grants of asylum to anyone who arrived by small boat on or after this date.

Of those whose asylum case has had an outcome since 2018, over half (56%) have been granted.

The overall asylum grant rate for small boat arrivals between 2018 and March 2024 is 72%, but there is a high number of withdrawals and if those are factored in then only 56% of cases with an outcome received a grant.

The number of small boat arrivals with an initial decision on their asylum claim as of March 2024 is subject to change in future publications as more individuals have their claims processed. Most of the asylum applications granted to small boat arrivals who arrived in the year ending March 2024 were aged 17 and under.

Table 3: Small boat arrivals applying for asylum and initial decision outcomes on their applications, 2018 to March 2024 1,2,3,4

Source: Irregular migration to the UK - Irr_D02 and Irr_D03

  • Applications awaiting a decision, withdrawn, and which received a decision are a count of applications, not people (meaning they exclude dependents).
  • Applications granted includes grants of refugee status, humanitarian protection and other forms of leave.
  • Grant rate is the percentage of applications that resulted in a grant of protection or some form of leave at initial decision, excluding withdrawn applications.
  • Total small boat arrivals in this section on asylum claims will differ slightly from the total small boat arrivals cited elsewhere in this publication due to differences in the dates on which data was extracted.

For more details on people applying for asylum, see the ‘ How many people do we grant protection to? ’ chapter of the Immigration system statistics quarterly release .

5. Potential victims of modern slavery

Modern slavery includes any form of human trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced labour. Potential victims of modern slavery in the UK are referred to the National Referral Mechanism ( NRM ). Statistics on modern slavery referrals show the overall number of NRM referrals in January to March 2024 (4,524) increased 9% compared to October to December 2023 (4,134). The number of NRM referrals has increased steadily since April 2023. For more information on NRM referrals, see the ‘ user guide ’.

5.1 Small boat arrivals with modern slavery referrals

A small proportion of small boat arrivals have been identified as potential victims of modern slavery.

Of the 117,697 small boat arrivals since 2018, fewer than one in 10 (9% or 11,110 people) had been referred to the NRM .

The number of small boat arrivals in each year with NRM referrals is likely to increase, as people have more time to identify as a potential victim and be referred into the NRM .

5.2 Outcomes of small boat modern slavery referrals

Of the 2,630 conclusive grounds decisions issued since 2018, 52% were negative, meaning they are not deemed to be a victim of modern slavery.

Most small boat arrivals with NRM referrals have received a reasonable grounds decision, but not yet received a conclusive grounds decision (table 4). This is because most reasonable grounds decisions are issued within 5 days of the referral, but conclusive grounds decisions can take considerably longer. More recent periods will naturally have a higher proportion awaiting a conclusive grounds decision, as less time has passed to allow for a decision to be made.

Table 4: Outcomes of small boat modern slavery referrals, 2018 to March 2024 1,2,3,4,5

Source: Irregular migration to the UK - Irr_D04 and Irr_D05

  • The time periods relate to the date of the small boat arrival, not the date of NRM referral or decision. NRM referrals can be made at any stage after arrival into the UK .
  • Individuals referred to the NRM receive decisions on 2 grounds: reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds. Therefore, individuals will be counted in multiple groups shown in the table. For example, those who are awaiting, or have received, a conclusive grounds decision will have previously received a positive reasonable grounds decision. Some individuals who are awaiting reconsideration and some of those whose referrals have since been withdrawn / closed will also have previously received a positive reasonable grounds decision.
  • Referrals withdrawn / closed includes some cases where contact with the individual has been lost. These may be reopened if the individual makes contact in future.
  • Cases awaiting reconsideration includes both those awaiting a new reasonable grounds decision and those awaiting a new conclusive grounds decision.

6. Returns of small boat arrivals

The data presented below shows the number of enforced and voluntary returns of small boat arrivals. Returns figures, especially voluntary returns, may be revised upwards as it can take time for the Home Office to become aware of such departures and for them to be recorded on the system.

Between 2018 and March 2024, there have been 3,168 returns of small boat arrivals, or 3% of all small boat arrivals, 2,178 of these returns occurred in the year to March 2024.

Numbers of returns are low relative to numbers of people arriving irregularly by small boat, because most of these irregular migrants claim asylum on arrival. Those claims that are unsuccessful must still undergo substantive consideration, or consideration under inadmissibility rules, before any steps can be taken to arrange a return.

In year ending March 2024, 89% of small boat returns have been Albanian nationals. This follows the UK -Albania joint communique, signed on 13 December 2022 in an effort to deal with illegal migration and increase the number of people returned to Albania.

Figure 5: Returns of small boat arrivals, January 2018 to March 2024

Source: Irregular migration to the UK summary tables - Irr_02e

For more information on returns, see the ‘ How many people are detained or returned? ’ chapter of the Immigration system statistics quarterly release .

7. About the statistics

The underlying casework systems on which this data is based are undergoing a process of change and therefore the published numbers may change in future quarters.

These statistics should not be used to infer the size of the irregular population in the UK , nor the total number of people entering the UK irregularly. For a number of reasons, it is not possible to know the exact size of the irregular population, or the number entering irregularly, and so we have not produced any official estimates for this number.

This is because:

  • some people will successfully evade border controls and remain in the UK undetected
  • some people may enter the UK on regular routes and their status subsequently becomes ‘irregular’ – for example, if they overstay a visa (it should be noted that there are a number of ways in which a person’s departure from the UK may legitimately not be recorded on the system)
  • the data sources available count the number of recorded detections - in some instances the same person may be detected multiple times, either for the same method of entry or across different methods of entry (such individuals will be counted multiple times in the statistics)
  • some people may enter the UK irregularly but obtain ‘regular’ status – for example, following a successful asylum application

Figures on detections may be affected by the levels of operational activity at the border and overseas, so should not be used to infer levels of irregular migration. Changes in detection could be a result of changes in operational activity as well as changes in the number of people attempting to enter the UK irregularly and recording practices.

Data on detections does not include those prevented from reaching the UK border (for example, those prevented from boarding transportation at their port of embarkation or where their concealment in a vehicle has been detected prior to arrival in the UK ).

For more information on the data in this release, please see the ‘ user guide ’.

8. Data tables

Data referred to here can be found in the following tables:

  • Irregular migration summary tables
  • Detailed irregular migration datasets

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UK ‘taking back control’ of its borders risks rolling back human rights protections

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Professor of Political Sociology, Queen's University Belfast

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Katy Hayward has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

Queen's University Belfast provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.

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Side view of prime minister Rishi Sunak walking in front of Downing Street, holding a red ministerial folder under his arm

The High Court in Belfast has ruled that key elements of the UK’s Illegal Migration Act are incompatible with the Windsor framework and should not be applied in Northern Ireland. Once again, Northern Ireland appears to be a block on the Brexit ambition to “take back control of our borders”.

This time, though, the implications go beyond the island of Ireland. The judgement reaches across the Irish Sea to the core of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy. The court found that parts of the act , which gave the government expansive powers to remove asylum seekers, violate the human rights of those seeking refuge in Northern Ireland.

Unsurprisingly, the government has vowed to appeal. But the ruling has already exposed something about the UK.

This matter is greater than debates around migration, Brexit or the integrity of the UK union. It centres on human rights: something the UK recognised after the second world war to be essential to human dignity, and acknowledged in 1998 to be essential to peace in Northern Ireland. In the wake of brutal conflict, the UK had agreed with its neighbours to apply better and universal standards to protect humanity.

Read more: Asylum chaos triggers fresh tensions over how to manage Ireland's post-Brexit border

Amid the tortuous Brexit negotiations, the need to uphold human rights was so obvious that it was the point the UK and EU agreed upon most readily. An article on protecting the “rights of individuals” in Northern Ireland was included in the first draft of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement in March 2018.

It remained unchanged through the various iterations of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland within that agreement that followed: Theresa May’s “backstop” in November 2018, Boris Johnson’s deal in October 2019 and Rishi Sunak’s Windsor framework in February 2023.

The purpose of the protocol (now “Windsor framework”) was not just to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland but, as article 1 states, to “protect the 1998 [Good Friday/Belfast] Agreement in all its dimensions”.

The principal purpose of article 2 of the Windsor framework is to safeguard that peace agreement. It is striking that, even though this is a joint agreement between the UK and the EU, the article focuses on solely one protagonist. It says: “The United Kingdom shall ensure that no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity, as set out in … the 1998 Agreement … results from its withdrawal from the [European] Union”.

As was clearly outlined to a Westminster committee recently, the constitutional incorporation of human rights in Northern Ireland is fundamental to its post-conflict governance. Crucially, the 1998 agreement , which brought 30 years of violence to an end, also established institutions to uphold these protections, including dedicated human rights and equality commissions.

The second part of article 2 of the Windsor framework commits the UK to continuing to facilitate the work of these bodies. It may be seen either as ironic or reassuring that those very same institutions are the ones who have taken the UK government to court for breaching that very same article.

Rolling back on human rights

The legal proceedings taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission centred on article 2. In essence, the ruling means that elements of UK law diminish rights that are fundamental to the 1998 agreement, including the European Convention on Human Rights. Notably, this is the second time this year the Belfast High Court has found this to be so.

A UK border force branded dinghy full of people wrapped in blankets and hats

Critics have claimed the judgement will make Northern Ireland a “magnet” for asylum seekers hoping to avoid being sent to Rwanda. But they miss the bigger picture.

Northern Ireland does have a unique place in the UK but this is primarily as a conduit for applying international standards of human rights – even as the government is appearing to unravel them.

Indeed, Northern Ireland’s governance and constitution are uniquely and directly subject to international agreements. This is for good reason.

The protections they offer prevail over domestic law, giving reassurance after a shameful history of state discrimination and rights abuses. Were there to be a change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, international standards – and defence – of human rights will remain just as important.

For that, after all, is the point of universal human rights: we do not get to choose whether or not we might need to draw upon their protection.

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  • UK migration
  • Human rights law
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  • Rishi Sunak
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  • Election 2024

Is Labour ready when it comes to foreign policy?

Once the election is over, pressing global issues will come rushing in for Keir Starmer.

By Lawrence Freedman

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The theme of the Labour campaign is “change”. When it comes to foreign and defence policy, however, “continuity” is more prominent. At noon on 22 May, hours before Rishi Sunak called the general election, David Lammy and John Healey, the shadow foreign secretary and shadow defence secretary respectively, made this clear when they spoke at the London Defence Conference, held at King’s College London.

They began by emphasising, having recently returned from Kyiv, that when it comes to the UK’s commitment to Ukraine there will be no change. Nor will there be in the UK’s nuclear status. The Dreadnought -class nuclear submarine programme will proceed to completion, so that the first boats will enter into service early next decade. They accept in principle the move to spend 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence, up from the current 2.2 per cent, although it appears that the shadow chancellor will not yet let them match the Conservative promise to achieve this by 2030.

This promise of continuity, demonstrating that the country’s security is safe in Labour’s hands, symbolised the journey travelled since Keir Starmer took over from Jeremy Corbyn. Instead of the internal discord of the Corbyn years, Lammy and Healey insisted that their unity on these matters exceeded that of the Tories. Their joint appearance demonstrated how under Labour the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) would work together in harmony. Healey referenced the excoriating article the former Conservative defence secretary Ben Wallace has written about the FCDO to show how bad things had become under the current government, although he didn’t say whether he agreed with the article’s thrust, which was how dovish and cautious diplomats acted as a drag when the need was to take a tough stance.

If Corbyn was still in charge, security undoubtedly would be a big issue. As he showed at the time of the Salisbury poisonings, he is prepared to give Russia the benefit of the doubt and, since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he has opposed sending arms to Ukraine. But now that he has been expelled from the Labour Party, and must run this time round as an independent, there is no incentive for Starmer to emphasise an area where there is little difference between the two parties. When asked at the London Defence Conference if foreign affairs risked getting neglected in the election – Keir Starmer’s recent six pledges were all about domestic issues – Lammy and Healey answered that when out campaigning they found that the concerns of voters were all about the cost of living and public services.

Conservatives and conscription

The Conservative campaign will make more of a feature of the dangerous state of the world. This was a major theme of Sunak’s election announcement in which he pointed to the war in Ukraine, the dangers a Russian victory would pose, and the issues of energy security it had raised. He also stressed the need to oppose the “forces of Islamic extremism”  and China’s attempt to “dominate the 21st century by stealing a lead in technology”. He concluded: “These uncertain times call for a clear plan and bold action to chart a course to a secure future.” On 25 May, he followed this up with his proposal to introduce mandatory conscription for 18-year-olds, with an option to join the military full-time or do other forms of part-time community service.

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Whether or not this is a vote-winner, Labour should have little difficulty pushing back on this as a means of addressing the recruitment problems of the army. (I dealt with this in a piece earlier in the year .) The first headlines suggested the re-creation of a mass army, though the military do not need the large numbers that would be generated by general conscription, and would not welcome the training demands these numbers would impose. The policy detail, however, shows that only 30,000 18-year-olds will be recruited by this means, numbers similar to the reserves or the Army Cadets. There may be a case for a new and imaginative approach to meet the shortfalls in recruitment, especially in specialist areas, but this scheme essentially appears as offering a serious commitment to the military as a way for a few (barely 5 per cent of the cohort) to opt out of a mandatory part-time scheme of public service.

The only difficulty for Labour with this issue is that addressing future military requirements, whether in personnel or equipment, draws attention to its equivocation over future defence spending – moving to 2.5 per cent when economic conditions allow or when international conditions demand? Already the Conservatives are using this to show that Labour is still “soft” on defence. Perhaps Labour might toughen their stance in its manifesto to close off this line of attack.

While the conscription and spending issues may give defence some temporary salience in the campaign, overall Labour is probably right to assume that they have done enough to show that they are serious about national security and that concentrating on domestic issues is the key to victory in the election. This is confirmed by recent polling that shows Labour ahead on defence, although by less than on other issues. The main problem for Labour has been Gaza, where public opinion is strongly supportive of a ceasefire, and Starmer’s early apparently unconditional support for Israel, since corrected, led to a loss of votes in some areas with higher populations of Muslim and younger progressive voters. For Starmer this is another reason not to dwell on overseas issues.

After the campaign

However much it is discussed during the campaign, this remains a dangerous time in international affairs. Foreign policy will dominate the first weeks of the new government. One problem with an election being called for the start of July is that this is an exceptionally busy period in international diplomacy. Sunak will presumably take time off from campaigning to attend the G7 meeting in Italy from 13 to 15 June, if only to allow him to appear addressing important matters with world leaders.

Then, five days after the election, there will be a vital Nato summit in Washington. It starts on the day that parliament returns on 9 July and the swearing in of MPs begins. So Starmer will have to work out how quickly he can get across the Atlantic and start to appreciate the challenges of performing on the international stage without much sleep. Once he joins the summit, it will be an opportunity to get to know the leaders with whom he’ll be working over the coming years. As they will be marking the 75th anniversary of the alliance, he will no doubt recall the role played by the Labour government of the time, and in particular the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, in its creation. But he will also have to decide whether as the new boy he is going to be attentive but largely passive during the deliberations of the 32 member states, or to contribute.

There will be big issues on the agenda, largely to do with Ukraine . The Conservative governments could pride themselves as being the first movers on Ukraine, setting the terms for alliance debates on how it should best be supported. How will Starmer, deal with questions such as whether Nato does a better job than last year in supporting Ukraine’s aspirations to join the alliance as the best guarantor of its security? What can be done to make the process of getting more and better weapons and ammunition to Ukraine faster and more efficient? Can the allies demonstrate that the funding and will is there to support Ukraine over the long term and not just over 2024?

On all these matters, Lammy and Healey answered positively when visiting Kyiv earlier in the month, stressing their “ironclad” support. But the 2.5 per cent issue will be present. Grant Shapps, the Conservative Defence Minister, has said that his intention would be to get this target accepted as the norm for all Nato countries as the percentage of GDP to be spent on defence, instead of the current 2 per cent.

And then, the day after the State Opening of Parliament is expected on 17 July, a meeting of the European Political Community (EPC) is scheduled to take place at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. This is a relatively new body, first proposed by President Emmanuel Macron of France in the spring of 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, deliberately taking the conversations beyond EU states and encouraging the UK to get involved. This opportunity was accepted by Sunak. When he announced in March that he would be hosting the next event, the fourth, he added to the need to support Ukraine the issue of working “together to grapple with the huge challenge of illegal migration across the continent”. Sunak described the meeting as “an important forum for cooperation across the whole of Europe on the issues that are affecting us all, threatening our security and prosperity.”

Hosting the meeting therefore provides an opportunity to Starmer to start to make his own mark on international diplomacy. The EPC idea also fits in with Lammy’s view that security provides the optimum way to start to improve relations with the EU without appearing to be reversing Brexit. At the same time, the EU will be looking to see what Starmer has in mind on the other Brexit-related issues, especially easing trade flows, but little will be done on those issues until after the summer break. The security issues are more pressing.

Unfortunately it is all going to be a bit of a rush. By the time of the Nato summit, the new ministerial teams will still be getting acquainted with their offices on either side of Whitehall. Even by the time of the EPC meeting, the transition from opposition to government will still be underway. Special advisers will not yet have been approved and gained their clearances. This is also a time of churn at the top levels of the civil service. Awkwardly, the national security adviser, Tim Barrow, is leaving his post to prepare to be the next ambassador to Washington (there have been reports that Starmer was unhappy with the appointment, not because of problems with Barrow but because he might have wanted to put his own person into such a crucial position at such a crucial time). Barrow is being replaced by General Gwyn Jenkins, currently vice-chief of the defence staff. So Starmer will not be inheriting a settled team at the top, other than the chief of defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, who will be left in a potentially influential position.

These big conferences are the events we know about. As we have seen too often in recent years, the international system is capable of delivering nasty shocks, for which preparations have not been made and which require improvised responses. In 1964, on the same day that Harold Wilson came to power, with a tiny majority after 13 years of Conservative rule, Nikita Khrushchev was deposed as leader of the Soviet Union and China tested its first atomic bomb. In recent days we have seen an attempted assassination of the Slovakian prime minister and the death of the Iranian president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash. The Chinese have been engaged in aggressive military manoeuvres around Taiwan, deliberately intended as both a punishment and a warning as President Lai Ching-te, who is not to Beijing’s taste, takes office.

Progressive realism

While the election is underway, officials in both the FCDO and MoD will be trying to work out how to prepare for a change of government, reading up on what they can expect from their new ministers (assuming that Starmer does not pull any surprises in his cabinet appointments). Both Lammy and Healey have recently been setting out their stalls. In Lammy’s case this came in the form of an article in the US journal Foreign Affairs , an abridged version of which appeared in the Guardian . This is the key paragraph explaining his big idea of “progressive realism”:

“Progressive realism advocates using realist means to pursue progressive ends. For the British government, that requires tough-minded honesty about the United Kingdom, the balance of power, and the state of the world. But instead of using the logic of realism solely to accumulate power, progressive realism uses it in service of just goals – for example, countering climate change, defending democracy, and advancing the world’s economic development. It is the pursuit of ideals without delusions about what is achievable.”

It is self-evidently the case that a left-of-centre government is going to want to demonstrate that it can be inspired by the great causes of our time, while acknowledging that its idealism will have to be tempered by the limits on what can be achieved. Nonetheless, the term risks being one of those attempts to appeal to two disparate audiences as if by combining words that conflict they can show that such a separation need not be the case.

Lammy is well aware that the tension may turn out to be inescapable. In his essay he deals with the two areas in which the previous Labour government discovered how progressivism and realism could pull in opposite directions. The attempt by Robin Cook, Tony Blair’s first foreign secretary, to add more ethics to foreign policy “at times snagged on the limits of idealism, particularly when it came to hard choices about arms exports”. Lammy also recalls Cook’s prescient warnings about the Iraq War, which is now taken as a failure of “liberal interventionism” (although the underlying rationale for Iraq was actually more realist).

Iraq, says Lammy, is an error not to be repeated, while going on to note the dangers of inaction as dangerous situations develop. He gives the example of Syria. In practice, most foreign policy problems – notably, for example, the Hamas-Israel war – present not straightforward examples of progressivism or realism but hard dilemmas, with mixtures of ethical and prudential considerations.

The basic point about realism is that you take the world as you find it and not as you want it to be. Explaining to governments whose internal policies you dislike how they fail to meet your high standards on human rights is likely to cause irritation as much as conversion. If important interests depend on those governments – say, energy security and Saudi Arabia – then the complaints are apt to become muted.

The basic problem of foreign policy, therefore, is that you have to deal with foreigners who have their own interests and values. Arguably this is a greater problem than before, as more countries wish to avoid becoming associated with either a pro-Western or pro-Russian/Chinese camp. The issue was put starkly in last year’s “refresh” to the 2021 Integrated Review :

“Importantly, however, systemic competition is developing into a highly complex phenomenon that we must navigate with an understanding that not everyone’s values or interests consistently align with our own. Today’s international system cannot simply be reduced to ‘democracy versus autocracy’, or divided into binary, Cold War-style blocs. As IR2021 identified, an expanding group of ‘middle-ground powers’ are of growing importance to UK interests as well as global affairs more generally, and do not want to be drawn into zero-sum competition any more than the UK does. We will need to work with these countries to protect our shared higher interest in an open and stable international order, accepting that we may not share all of the same values and national interests.”

Something of a test may come later this year, following the American presidential election. In his essay, Lammy describes that the United States and Europe will remain “the rocks on which the United Kingdom builds its security, but the government’s ties with both must evolve”. Little has yet been said about how relations with the EU will evolve but Lammy, who knows the US well, has made no secret of his attempts to find common ground with Trumpist Republicans. He has even claimed a friendship with Senator JD Vance of Ohio, on the basis that they share humble backgrounds. Forging these links does no harm, but it would be unwise to assume that they would be a great help in the event of a new Trump administration.

Defence review

Healey’s focus has been on how to sort out the Ministry of Defence. He has spoken of the need for a defence review, which is the sort of thing new Labour governments like to commission. In a speech in March, he came forward with some interesting and largely sensible ideas for defence reorganisation, although he is by no means the first defence secretary, and probably won’t be the last, to demand new initiatives to deal with the chronic problems in military procurement. The problem again is one of time. The issues will come rushing in and he will have to commit to plans and capabilities long before a review can be completed and a plan for reorganisation implemented.

For example he has raised questions about the “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific announced in the 2021 Integrated Review, observing:

“It’s fine to send a new aircraft carrier on a gap-year tour of the Pacific. But its real job has got to be in the Atlantic and in the Med. It’s marginal to any balance of power in the Indo-Pacific; in the Atlantic, in the Arctic, as far as the northern European security is concerned it’s pivotal.”

It’s a fair question to raise but when he gets the answer from the military and MoD officials he will discover that the tilt has come to involve far more than the occasional visits of naval vessels, but embraces the Aukus nuclear submarine and advanced technologies programme with Australia and the US, and a new jet fighter with Italy and Japan, as well as a variety of other arrangements with countries in the region. This is not something that the government will find it easy to walk away from. Recent statements indicate that this is now appreciated.

Equally, waiting to raise the defence budget may not only indicate complacency over the scale of the challenges now being faced, but also potentially require yet more pruning of forward commitments. The benign conditions of the 1997-98 review hardly apply now.

Both Lammy and Healey have been doing the hard yards since their appointments to their current positions in November 2021 and April 2020 respectively. They have worked on their briefs and on getting to know the key people at home and abroad. The biggest uncertainty surrounds Starmer, who has little experience in foreign affairs and has thus far shown little interest. His handling of the Israel-Hamas war in its early stages should serve as a warning of how these issues can develop out of nowhere and bite the unprepared. In 1997 Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, was a former diplomat. Sue Gray, Starmer’s chief of staff, has much relevant experience to bring to her new role but not in foreign affairs. Her reported “shit list” of crises that a Labour government could face – collapse of Thames Water from overcrowded prisons, bankrupt councils, universities going under, NHS funding and public sector wage demands – are domestic rather than external.

However much political leaders in opposition expect to concentrate on domestic policy, they soon find that foreign policy draws them in. In all countries these are issues dealt with at the highest levels of government. Starmer will have no choice but to do likewise. The change will be abrupt. Whatever his reluctance to make a big deal of foreign and defence policy during the election, once it is over, the big issues will come rushing in. One of Starmer’s first tasks will be to write his “letters of last resort” – instructions to the UK’s nuclear submarine commanders, about how they should respond in the event of an all-out attack that has devastated the UK and left it without a government. He will get a series of urgent briefings on the international conflicts currently raging, giving him a chance to ponder their implications for the UK. And then, still only days after announcing his cabinet, he will be off to a vital summit in Washington where every comment will be scrutinised. From not wanting to dwell on defence and foreign policy during the election, he will soon find himself talking about little else.

Lawrence Freedman is a regular contributor. This piece originally ran on his Substack “ Comment is Freed ”

[See also: Rishi Sunak’s national service plan is a ludicrous fantasy ]

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