Windrush report: what the Home Office needs to act on | UK news

Recommendation: ministers should admit that serious harm was inflicted on people who are British and provide an unqualified apology to those affected

The review concludes that the government ignored repeated warnings and that ministers are still failing to acknowledge the extent of suffering inflicted on thousands of people who were mistakenly classified as illegal immigrants by the Home Office.

Throughout her interviews, Wendy Williams encountered a reflexively defensive position from senior civil servants and ministers. While officials agreed that the situation was “tragic”, there was a consistent desire to blame the individuals for failing to apply for documentation. Officials told her: “It was the fault of the people caught up in it that they didn’t get evidence of their status and when they tried to, they didn’t provide the right documentation.”

She concludes that unless there is a genuine acceptance of its failings, all attempts to right the wrongs of the Windrush generation will seem “hollow”, and warns the department risks repeating the mistakes that led to the scandal occurring in the first place.

Finding: race clearly played a part in what happened to the Windrush generation

Williams says she has “really serious concerns” about racism within the department. The report does not find that the Home Office was institutionally racist but it offers a detailed analysis of how Home Office “thoughtlessness” and “ignorance” on race contributed to the scandal.

“I think it is unfortunate that most of the policymakers were white and most of the people involved were black,” a senior official told her. Williams found a lack of understanding about the nature of racism: “There seems to be a misconception that racism is confined to decisions made with racist motivations … This is a misunderstanding of both the law and racism generally.”

Recommendation: the department should establish an overarching strategic race advisory board, chaired by the permanent secretary

This may go some way to addressing the ongoing question of whether the department was institutionally racist. As well as officials’ failure to understand British colonial history, Williams also highlights the lack of ethnic diversity at senior levels in the Home Office, reflecting a pronounced disparity with the public it serves. Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff are predominantly concentrated in the lower grades, and in 2018 made up 26.14% and 26.33% of the two lowest grades respectively, and only 7.18% of the senior civil service roles.

She found there had been low take-up of unconscious bias training in the department. A race advisory board might focus on improving these failings. But campaign groups want the government to go further. A group of 16 leading race equality organisations has called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate whether there is institutional racism in the Home Office.

Recommendation: the home secretary should commission officials to undertake a full review and evaluation of the hostile/compliant environment policy and measures

The review makes clear that the roots of the scandal stretch back over decades, as immigration legislation was gradually tightened from 1948 onwards, and notes the responsibility of Labour governments from the 1990s onwards in tightening immigration controls. However, it pinpoints the development of hostile environment policies during Theresa May’s time at the Home Office as the moment at which problems escalated. The creation of the “hostile environment” was done “with a complete disregard for the Windrush generation”. “Warning signs and messages about the hostile environment policy were not heeded.”

A key failure was a misplaced assumption in the impact assessments for the 2013 and 2015 immigration bills that those who were in the country without the ability to demonstrate it were here unlawfully. This was not the case. Around 17% of the UK population do not have passports, and until the introduction of the hostile environment most people have not needed them. “Key elements of immigration policy were developed without adequate consideration of their possible impacts (including those from a racial group, such as the Windrush generation)”, Williams states.

Following the report’s publication, Labour called for a repeal of hostile environment legislation, but the home secretary, Priti Patel, said she would review the report’s recommendations.

Finding: the department displayed a lack of empathy for individuals and some examples of potentially dehumanising jargon and cliches

The report criticises the use of words like “stock” and “flow” when describing immigration numbers as dehumanising. Williams criticises the way the department usually refers to people as a group, rather than recognising that individual lives are at stake. This language has “an impact on the attitudes and behaviour of staff towards people with whom they come into contact” – and contributes to officials “losing sight of individuals”. Initiatives like use of the Go Home vans were “racially insensitive”, and should never be repeated.

Finding: the Home Office displayed “defensiveness, lack of awareness and an unwillingness to listen and learn from mistakes”

This review follows numerous previous highly critical reports about the Home Office, published over the past 15 years. One senior official said: “The department ‘has got used to being beaten up’.” As a result, “an overarching culture has emerged in immigration policy and operational areas at the Home Office that has lost sight of its role to serve and protect all citizens”.

This defensiveness meant that officials were unwilling to acknowledge the scale of what has gone wrong. “There is the sense that priorities and decisions have been driven by an overwhelming desire to defend positions of policy and strategy – often at the expense of defending individuals from the impact of policies.”

Recommendation: the home secretary should introduce a migrants’ commissioner responsible for speaking up for migrants

The report suggests a commissioner role, in the mould of the children’s commissioner, charged with looking at the wider difficulties experienced by people coming to this country.

Recommendation: the department should be more proactive in identifying people affected

The government has admitted that more than 160 people were wrongly detained or deported to Caribbean countries, but has never investigated who has been deported to other Commonwealth countries. Campaign groups will welcome the request that Home Office extends its own investigations into who it might have wrongly deported.

Finding: a “target-dominated” work environment within the immigration system contributed to the scandal

Williams criticises a “target dominated’ work environment within the immigration system and some “low-quality decision making” which combined withoperational and organisational failings” in the department to cause the detrimental treatment received by the Windrush generation. Some decision-makers operated an “irrational and unreasonable” approach to individuals, requiring multiple documents for “proof” of presence in the UK for each year of residence in the UK – despite there being no policy basis for doing this.

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