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Home Office publishes assessments of the compliant/hostile environment immigration policy, JWCI calls it as a ‘watershed moment’ showing the policy is racist


Four documents released, including equality impact assessment and review of internal data and processes

Date of Publication:
13 February 2023

The Home Office last week published four new documents reviewing what it now terms the 'compliant environment', better known as the 'hostile environment' immigration policy. There's plenty to read – nearly 250 pages in total.

Home Office buildingImage credit: UK GovernmentAs one of the documents explains, the Home Office says the compliant environment aims to:

  • Deter and prevent immigration offending, acting as a deterrent for those considering coming to, or remaining in, the UK unlawfully;
  • Secure compliance with and help to enforce UK immigration laws;
  • Protect UK taxpayer funded; and
  • Protect vulnerable migrants from the risk of exploitation.

Six measures make up the compliant environment framework to ensure that only people who are eligible and in the UK legally have access to the following areas: work; housing; public funds/benefits; healthcare; bank accounts; driving licences.

Among last week's publications is the 48-page Compliant environment: overarching equality impact assessment, which can be accessed from here (both online and PDF versions are available).

The equality impact assessment was carried out in direct response to a recommendation by Wendy Williams in her Windrush Lessons Learned Review.

It acknowledges: "The Home Office recognises that the overarching compliant environment framework results in a meaningful differential impact in respect of the protected characteristic of race. […] We note that of the top five nationalities impacted most are identifiable as being from/of brown or black heritage and all five are visibly not white. This means that the internal data suggests some of the compliant environment measures may disproportionately impact on people of colour."

Though it adds: "The operation of the compliant environment framework, and the resulting directly differential impact, is consistent with the overall approach the UK takes to immigration control. As a result, the Home Office also considers the compliant environment framework to be a proportionate means of achieving legitimate aim, rational, fair and reasonable because it is based on the existing framework and legislation underpinning immigration control in the UK."

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said on Twitter that the publication of the impact assessment was a watershed moment: "It acknowledges for the first time what we've long known - that these policies have 'disproportionate impact' on [people of colour]. In other words the hostile environment is racist."

Mary Atkinson, JCWI's Campaigns and Networks Manager, told the Guardian: "This report lays out in the cold, clinical language of the Home Office what communities of colour have been saying for over a decade: this government's hostile environment is racist. For the Home Office to admit that its policies have a disproportionate impact on people of colour, particularly on black and east Asian communities, is a watershed moment. This government cannot begin to right the wrongs of Windrush while every single policy that caused discrimination against Windrush victims remains in place."

A comprehensive Developing an evaluation strategy for the compliant environment: Review of internal data and processes, which can be read online here (approximately 70-pages long). It looks at how the compliant environment works.

It is a 2-part publication and the Home Office explains: "The first part uses the findings from the internal analysis to set out how the compliant environment works and who it might affect. In particular, it: provides an overview of how the compliant environment works and details each individual measure; looks more closely at specific activities within each measure and the characteristics of those subject to enforcement activities. The second part draws on findings from this report, along with the gaps identified, to propose a plan for a long-term monitoring and evaluation strategy of the compliant environment."

The data analysis in the report focuses on the period between July 2014 and March 2018, immediately prior to the Windrush scandal.

The report includes some data on how many people the hostile/compliant environment has affected: "Between 2014 and 2018, the Home Office shared 448,800 individuals' records with [other government departments], and 63,786 individuals were subject to actions. The most common actions were having a UK driving licence revoked or a letter being sent to the employer advising them that their employee may not have the right to work in the UK. Most individuals were subject to one action, while 3,713 had two and 182 received three or more actions (including some individuals being subject to the same action more than once over this period)."

It continues: "In terms of characteristics of those whose data was shared (whether or not action was taken), two-thirds were male and almost three-quarters were between 18 and 39 years old. The most common nationalities included in the data during this period were Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian, Bangladeshi and Chinese. Together, these nationalities made up half of the shared cases."

Overall, roughly 14% of individuals whose data was shared by the Home Office received a sanction.

The report's lengthy chapter 5 provides a detailed explanation of how each of the six measures making up the compliant environment works.

Changes since Windrush are also considered, with the report noting: "As a direct result of Windrush, bulk data sharing activities with other partners and government departments were restricted, although NHS debts of over £500 that had been outstanding for longer than two months continued to be shared with the Home Office, subject to some restrictions. COVID-19 led to the broader suspension of data sharing with [other government departments], and the temporary pause of the issuing of civil penalties and debt recovery activity. As of September 2021, bulk data sharing with HMRC, DWP and DVLA/DVA restarted with the additional safeguards in place."

The hostile/compliant environment's measure to restrict access to housing gets a comprehensive individual and independent review in the last week's Right to Rent scheme: Phase two evaluation available here (approximately 80-pages long)

In brief, the overall question assessed in this independent evaluation was whether the Right to Rent scheme leads to unlawful discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or nationality.

The evaluation concludes: "Clear examples of discriminatory behaviour were found in the implementation of Right to Rent by landlords and letting agents, with mystery shopper 'success' outcomes varying according to nationality and ethnicity, and 19% of landlords claiming to be aware of tenants being discriminated against on the basis of their actual or perceived nationality, race or ethnic background. However, there was little or no evidence of systematic unlawful discrimination as a result of the Right to Rent scheme, and discrimination on other grounds (for example towards welfare benefit claimants) was found at a much higher level. The results are not proof of a total absence of discrimination, since the mystery shopper research methodology did not capture the final steps of the rental transaction where 'success' may have been demonstrated conclusively through the offer of a tenancy."

The evaluation also identified some gaps in landlords' understanding of the Right to Rent scheme, which could have a significant impact on implementation of the Scheme and therefore discrimination.

Finally, the approximately 30-page report A review of external evidence of the compliant environment: Literature synthesis of external evidence and best use of international examples can be read online here.

It reviews existing evidence surrounding the compliant environment and compares practices relating the regulation of access to work, benefits and services in the UK to those in other countries.

The Home Office comments: "The report is in two parts. The first is a rapid evidence assessment of existing academic and grey literature on the compliant environment published between July 2014 and August 2020, exploring key research themes and gaps. The second is a comparison between how the UK, Germany, France and Spain manage access to public services, aiming to explore what lessons can be drawn from other countries and how international evidence can be best used in the wider compliant environment evaluation."