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Equality and Human Rights Commission finds Home Office hostile environment immigration policies failed to comply with equality law


EHRC says treatment of Windrush generation as a result of hostile environment is "shameful stain on British history"

Date of Publication:
25 November 2020

Equality and Human Rights Commission finds Home Office hostile environment immigration policies failed to comply with equality law

25 November 2020

An important new report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) today finds that the Home Office failed to comply with equality law when implementing so-called 'hostile environment' immigration policies.

CoverYou can read the 82-page report here.

The report in particular considers the impact of hostile environment policies on Black members of the Windrush generation.

Building upon Wendy Williams' earlier Windrush Lessons Learned Review, the EHRC report looks at how, and whether, the Home Office complied with its Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) obligations when it introduced the hostile environment.

The EHRC's report finds that the Home Office repeatedly ignored, dismissed or disregarded the negative consequences of the hostile environment. It concludes that the Home Office did not comply with the PSED in relation to understanding the impact on the Windrush generation and their descendants when developing, implementing and monitoring hostile environment policies.

The report's key findings are as follows:

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

• There was limited engagement with stakeholders representing members of the Windrush generation and their descendants, even as the severe effects of hostile environment policies began to emerge. The engagement that did take place was too focused on groups that would help to implement the measures, and not those who could make sure the department fully understood the equality implications of its policies.

• Equality impacts were often considered too late to form a meaningful part of many decision-making processes, with their reputational or legal implications for the Home Office given greater weight than the real-life consequences for the people affected.

• Exceptions to the PSED for immigration functions were often interpreted too broadly, incorrectly and / or inconsistently.

• There was 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.

"[O]ur findings, together with those of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review about the devastating effects of the hostile environment on Black members of the Windrush generation, show a clear failure by the Home Office to develop and implement immigration policies that were fit for purpose for the Black people affected by them," the report states.

Caroline Waters, interim chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 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."

The EHRC makes a series of recommendations in the report to help the Home Office comply with the PSED effectively and meaningfully in the future development, implementation and monitoring of immigration policy and practice.

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "This report highlights important areas for improvement by the Home Office, building on the work we are already doing in response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review to apply a more rigorous approach to policymaking, increase openness to scrutiny, and create a more inclusive workforce – including by launching comprehensive training for everyone working in the Home Office to ensure they understand and appreciate the history of migration and race in this country. We are working closely with the EHRC on an action plan designed to ensure that we never make similar mistakes in the future."

Caroline Waters said: "The [Home Office] 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 EHRC report notes: "Much of the hostile environment agenda is still in operation. Meanwhile, new approaches to immigration are still being developed, including as a result of the UK exiting the European Union. It is therefore essential that the Home Office acts on the areas we have identified and improve its practice to have due regard to equality."