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Priti Patel promises review of hostile environment policy following Windrush scandal

Home secretary pledges to put ‘people above cases’ – but campaigners accuse her of ‘paying lip service’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 21 July 2020 18:44 BST
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Home Office to carry out review of hostile environment following Windrush says Priti Patel

Priti Patel has promised a review of the government’s hostile environment in light of the Windrush scandal, pledging a more compassionate and “people first” approach to immigration.

The home secretary told MPs on Tuesday that a “full evaluation” would be undertaken into the widely criticised hostile environment policy, in a bid to bring about “sweeping reforms” to the culture and working practices to reach within the Home Office.

MPs and campaigners said Ms Patel’s “failure” to take urgent action to both act on previous reviews and to protect migrants caught up in the hostile environment during the coronavirus pandemic “spoke far more than any of her promises for the future”.

Speaking in the House of Commons more than two years on from the Windrush fiasco, the home secretary said: “I have tasked my officials to undertake a full evaluation of the compliant environment policy and measures, individually and cumulatively, to make sure the crucial balance is right.

“I’ve asked them to evaluate the changes that were made to immigration and nationality laws over successive governments, to ensure that they are fit for purpose for today’s world […] Have no doubt, where we find problems, I will seek to fix them.”

Ms Patel said the evaluation would make sure the “right protections” were in place to prevent immigration abuse, while ensuring no one with a legal right to be in the UK was wrongly penalised.

She also announced compulsory training for all staff working in the Home Office “to ensure they understand and appreciate the history of migration and race in this country”, and said action would be taken to create a more inclusive workforce in the department.

In response, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds highlighted the fact that just 60 people received compensation from the Windrush compensation scheme in the first year of operation, describing this figure as “shocking”.

He added: “Ministers must get a grip of this scheme. The review is clear that the Home Office must be more proactive in identifying people affected and putting right any detriment detected.

“The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted the need not just to recognise the discrimination and racism that black people continue to face, but to demand action. Looking at the failure to act on so many previous reviews, the government is falling woefully short on that action.”

The home secretary’s statement came after the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, commissioned to examine how people with a right to live in the UK were wrongfully detained or deported to the Caribbean, found in March that those affected were let down by “systemic operational failings”.

It concluded that the Home Office had demonstrated “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” towards the issue of race, and that the scandal had been “foreseeable and avoidable”.

Responding to Ms Patel’s statement, Chai Patel, legal policy director for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said that while the commitments did “some good in the short term”, the home secretary did not provide any detail on how and when she would “tackle the root causes of the Windrush scandal”, which he said “continued to harm the lives of so many”.

He added: “Priti Patel says she cares about ‘people, not cases’, but if she did, she would have responded to calls during the pandemic to scrap no recourse to public funds conditions for destitute migrants and to scrap NHS charging for those dying because they were too scared to seek healthcare.

“She hasn’t, and her failure to take the urgent action needed over the pandemic speaks far more than any of her promises for the future.”

Priti Patel admits Windrush compensation scheme has been too slow, but refuses to apologise

Patrick Vernon OBE, Windrush campaigner, claimed the home secretary’s statement “paid lip service” to the Windrush review without responding to the “urgency of the matter”.

“Several Windrush victims have already died without receiving compensation for the injustice they faced. What’s more, structural racism continues to harm black and minority ethnic communities across the UK – the pandemic has clearly illustrated this,” he said.

The home secretary is to publish a comprehensive improvement plan in response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review in September, which she said would show how the Home Office was delivering on the recommendations and working to be “more diverse and worthy of the trust of the whole communities it serves”.

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