Equality and Human Rights Commission will monitor new action plan for two years
Home Office signs legal agreement with EHRC to address failings following finding that hostile environment immigration policy did not comply with equality law
12 April 2021
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced on 1 April that the Home Office had signed a legal agreement with the EHRC under section 23 of the Equality Act 2006 setting out a plan of action it will take to address its failure to comply with equality law when implementing 'hostile environment' immigration policies.
It follows last November's important EHRC report (see our earlier article here) which found that the Home Office's implementation of the hostile environment did not comply with its Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) obligations.
While the new legal agreement signed by the Home Office and the EHRC was not made public, the EHRC gave brief details in a press release noting that the Home Office had committed to making improvements that will demonstrate it:
- looks for and properly considers evidence and feedback from stakeholders representing affected groups to understand the equality impacts of policies and practices;
- has a clear understanding of equality data and evidence that it uses to inform decisions and policymaking at all levels, including of the potential and actual impact of the department's work on different protected characteristic groups; and
- has taken meaningful action to improve internal knowledge and expertise on how to comply with the PSED.
The EHRC said it would monitor and advise on the implementation of the action plan for two years. Any failure to adhere to the terms of the agreement could lead to the EHRC taking legal action requiring the Home Office to comply.
In its November report, the EHRC had in particular found that the Home Office had failed to consider the impact on the Windrush generation and their descendants when developing, implementing and monitoring hostile environment policies.
Caroline Waters, the then interim chair of the EHRC, said last November: "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."
Announcing the new legal agreement, the current chair of the EHRC, Kishwer Falkner, said the experiences of the Windrush generation serve as a stark reminder of the importance of adhering to equality laws.
Falkner added: "When used properly, the PSED is vital in ensuring all public services work effectively for all of their users, regardless of background. By effectively ignoring it when implementing the hostile environment measure, the Home Office's actions had a profound effect on many people's lives. If we are to be a fair and equal society, then equality and human rights has to be at the core of everything we do."
Home Secretary Priti Patel and Home Office Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft were quoted as saying in a joint statement: "We are pleased to have agreed an ambitious action plan with the EHRC which builds on the work we are doing in response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. We will continue to work closely with the EHRC on delivering the action plan to ensure mistakes like this never happen again."