Home Office showed ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness’ towards race, Windrush report finds

Department’s attitude towards race issues and history of Windrush generation ‘consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism’, says inspector of constabulary Wendy Williams in long-awaited report

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 19 March 2020 12:43 GMT
Priti Patel 'truly sorry' for 'pain and suffering' inflicted on Windrush generation

The Home Office has demonstrated “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” towards the issue of race, an independent report into the Windrush scandal has revealed.

The review, commissioned after people with a right to live in the UK were wrongfully detained or deported to the Caribbean, finds that those affected were let down by “systemic operational failings”.

Its publication has prompted calls for an independent review specifically into the extent of institutional racism in the Home Office and whether its immigration policies are in line with equality law.

In a damning indictment of the Home Office, inspector of constabulary Wendy Williams, the report’s author, stated that the fiasco, which saw people with a right to live in the UK wrongfully detained or deported to the Caribbean, was “foreseeable and avoidable”.

She said: “Warning signs from inside and outside the Home Office were simply not heeded by officials and ministers. Even when stories of members of the Windrush generation being affected by the immigration control started to emerge in the media from 2017 onwards, the department was slow to react.”

Ms Williams accused successive governments of trying to demonstrate they were being tough on immigration by tightening immigration control and passing laws creating, and then expanding the “hostile environment”, with a “complete disregard” for the Windrush generation.

The report identifies organisational factors in the Home Office which created the operating environment in which the mistakes could be made, including a “culture of disbelief and carelessness” when dealing with immigration applications.

It concludes that the Windrush scandal showed “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” on race issues which is “consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, home secretary Priti Patel accepted that there were “structural and cultural” issues in the Home Office, and gave an official apology.

“There is nothing I can say today that will undo the suffering ... On behalf of this and successive governments I am truly sorry,” she told MPs.

Labour MP David Lammy said the review was a “brutal indictment” of the Home Office which showed it was “wholly unfit” for the society it is supposed to serve.

“The review shows the Windrush scandal was not an innocent mistake, but a systemic pattern of appalling behaviour rooted in a toxic internal culture and a failure of the department to understand Britain’s colonial history,” he said.

“When the problem is institutional, the only solution is to tear out the ruined foundations and rebuild the institution brick by brick. This is what the Home Office needs.”

Mr Lammy called on the Home Office to end the hostile environment immediately, create a new purpose and culture at the department based on the rule of law, openness and diversity, and fundamentally rebuild the Home Office.

He added that it was unfortunate that the report had been published in the midst of the coronavius emergency, saying it was ”hard to imagine a worse time” for it to be published.

“For the sake of all those black British citizens who were deported, detained, made homeless, jobless, denied healthcare housing and welfare by their own government, we cannot allow this news to be buried.”

Ms Williams said both ministers and officials in the Home Office must learn lessons from the scandal, saying ministers set the policy and the direction of travel and did not sufficiently question unintended consequences, while officials could and should have done more to examine, consider and explain the impacts of decisions.

Outlining specific changes and improvements, she said the department must acknowledge the wrong which has been done, open itself up to greater external scrutiny; and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in humanity.

The inspector of constabulary also called for a full review and evaluation of the hostile environment policy and the creation of a “migrants commissioner responsible for speaking up for migrants and those affected by the system”.

Diane Abbott voices 'grave' concerns on Windrush compensation scheme

In response to the review’s findings, a group of race equality and migrant rights organisations have called for an independent review into the extent of institutional racism in the Home Office and whether its immigration policies are in line with equality law around racial discrimination.

Dr Zubaida Haque, deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, said it was now “incumbent” on this government to understand “how and why Home Office culture, attitudes, immigration and citizenship policies have repeatedly discriminated against black and ethnic minority British citizens”.

“Unless the issues around institutional racism are meaningfully addressed, we risk the same mistakes and injustices being repeated,” she said.

Ms Patel said she would bring forward a detailed formal response in the next six months, as Wendy Williams has recommended, representing a “new chapter” for the Home Office.

“Let me assure this house that everyone at the Home Office will be asking the difficult questions needed to ensure that these circumstances can never arise again,” she added.

Since the scandal emerged in 2018, more than 8,000 have been given “some form of documentation” and the immigration status has been confirmed for almost 2,500, according to the most recent figures from the Home Office.

The department identified 164 people who had been deported or put in detention since 2002 amid the Windrush scandal, records said.

A compensation scheme with an estimated budget of at least £200m has been set up, but campaigners have hit out at the “paltry” number of people who have so far received payments, describing the process as “slow and onerous”.

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