United Kingdom

Home Office 'ignored laws' in Windrush storm: Equality rules were shunned

The Home Office ‘effectively ignored’ equality laws when it drew up controversial ‘hostile environment’ policies to crack down on illegal migrants, a report says.

Civil rights watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found the failures to observe existing policy contributed to the Windrush scandal.

The Coalition government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy was brought in by then home secretary Theresa May in 2012. It was intended to stop illegal migrants settling in the UK.

But it ended up causing profound problems for entirely legal migrants from the Windrush generation, who arrived in Britain from the Caribbean between the late 1940s and the 1970s. 

Civil rights watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found the failures to observe existing policy contributed to the Windrush scandal (file image)

The EHRC’s report, published today, concluded the Home Office did not comply with a legal duty to consider the impact its policies would have on black and ethnic minority people.

There was ‘limited engagement’ with the Windrush generation, even as the severe effects of hostile environment policies began to emerge, it added. 

‘When negative equality impacts were identified by the Home Office and stakeholders, they were repeatedly ignored, dismissed, or their severity disregarded at crucial points of policy development,’ the report said.

‘This happened particularly when they were seen as a barrier to implementing hostile environment policies in a highly-politicised environment.’

Scores of entirely legitimate Windrush migrants - some of whom had lived in Britain for decades - were removed from the country, losing their homes and livelihoods, or placed in immigration detention. Some died before the mistakes could be rectified.

Scores of entirely legitimate Windrush migrants were removed from the country. Some died before the mistakes could be rectified. Pictured, Jamaican immigrants arriving at Tibury Docks in Essex in 1948 aboard Empire Windrush

The EHRC’s new report noted a ‘lack of organisation-wide commitment, including by senior leadership, to the importance of equality and the Home Office’s obligations under the PSED’.

‘Any action taken to record and respond to negative equality impacts was perfunctory, and therefore insufficient,’ it added.

The ‘hostile environment’ policy was brought in by Theresa May (pictured) in 2012

Caroline Waters, the EHRC’s interim chairman, said: ‘The treatment of the Windrush generation as a result of hostile environment policies was a shameful stain on British history.

‘It is unacceptable that equality legislation, designed to prevent an unfair or disproportionate impact on people from ethnic minorities and other groups, was effectively ignored in the creation and delivery of policies that had such profound implications for so many people’s lives.

‘Our review has identified where the Home Office fell short of its legal obligations.

‘The department has worked constructively with us throughout our assessment, and we are pleased that it has willingly committed to enter into an agreement with us to learn the lessons from the experiences of the Windrush generation so they can never be repeated.’

The watchdog set out a series of recommendations to help the Home Office comply with the PSED in future.

It said Windrush was ‘foreseeable and avoidable’ but stopped short of branding the Home Office ‘institutionally racist’ - the incendiary phrase used to describe the Metropolitan Police over its bungled investigation into the 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Instead, it said the Windrush mistakes had been compounded by ‘elements of institutional racism’. 

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