Windrush: Human rights watchdog to review hostile environment policy in light of scandal

Chairman says there are ‘urgent calls for action to end systemic and entrenched race inequalities’ 

Zoe Tidman
Friday 12 June 2020 00:23 BST
Home Office showed 'institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness' towards race Windrush report finds

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will look at the Home Office’s “hostile environment“ policy in light of the Windrush scandal.

The watchdog said it is launching legal action to review whether the department complied with equality law when carrying out the immigration measures.

The hostile environment strategy was devised under Theresa May when she was home secretary in the coalition government to deter illegal immigration and continued under her successor, Amber Rudd.

It resulted in thousands of Commonwealth immigrants from the so-called Windrush generation – who came to Britain in the decades following the Second World War – being wrongly denied rights, losing their jobs, and in some cases being deported.

The EHRC action follows the “lessons learned” review published in March, which found the Home Office had shown “ignorance and thoughtlessness” in dealing with race issues.

The watchdog said that its assessment would in particular look at how the Home Office ”understood, monitored and reviewed the impact of placing increasingly onerous documentation requirements” on the Windrush generation.

David Isaac, the EHRC chairman, said “The Windrush scandal and hostile environment policies have cast a shadow across the UK and its values. We are working with the Home Office to determine what must change so that this shameful period of our history is not repeated.”

He said the impact of coronavirus and the death of George Floyd – an African American who died while in police custody in Minneapolis – has led to “urgent calls for action to end the systemic and entrenched race inequalities“ in the UK.

“The law requires that all public bodies must promote inclusivity and opportunity by considering the impact their policies have on ethnic minorities,” Mr Issac said.

“We have long called for government to produce a comprehensive race equality strategy to tackle these injustices.”

The EHRC said its assessment – under section 31 of the Equality Act 2006 – would be finished by September.

The move was welcomed by the chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper.

The MP said she hopes the legal assessment “will allow the Home Office to finally face up to the fundamental changes needed in its culture, policies and practices” to prevent similar scandals from happening in the future.

Labour MP David Lammy said: “It is absolutely right that the EHRC has taken the unprecedented step of beginning legal action to review whether the Home Office broke equality laws in its appalling treatment of the Windrush Generation.”

The politician, who last year along with more than 80 other MPs referred the Home Office to the EHRC, added: “The government has admitted its own wrongdoing, but these Black Britons deserve so much more than an apology. As the world demands action on racial inequalities, the Windrush generation need compensation that is actually paid out, and structural change so that this gross injustice can never repeat itself.”

The Home Office said Priti Patel, the home secretary, was determined to do all she could to “right the wrongs” endured by the Windrush generation.

A spokesperson said:“Victims who suffered from this terrible injustice are now receiving the support and compensation they are owed. So far 12,000 people have been helped to confirm their status in the UK and more compensation payments are being made week on week.

“We are carefully considering the findings of the Windrush Lessons Learned review and will respond shortly to those important recommendations. We will also work with the EHRC on the review they have launched.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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