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Lessons learned review: Windrush scandal a profound institutional failure, immigration ‘hostile environment’ measures completely disregarded Windrush generation

Summary:

Wendy Williams' long-awaited learned review finds Home Office showed "ignorance and thoughtlessness" on issue of race

Date of Publication:
20 March 2020

Lessons learned review: Windrush scandal a profound institutional failure, immigration 'hostile environment' measures completely disregarded Windrush generation

19 March 2020
EIN

The Government yesterday finally published the long-awaited lessons learned review into the Windrush scandal, authored by inspector of constabulary Wendy Williams.

CoverYou can access the 276-page report here.

Overall, the independent review finds that the Windrush scandal was a "profound institutional failure".

In her review, Williams says that the reasons why the scandal occurred are complex and detailed, but its roots can be traced back to the immigration legislation of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, some of which had racial motivations.

In addition, the report finds that operational and organisational failings at the Home Office had a causative impact on the detrimental treatment received by the Windrush generation as a result of them being caught up in measures designed for people who have no right to be in the UK.

The history of the Windrush generation history was institutionally forgotten.

"[O]ver time," Williams says, "those in power forgot about them and their circumstances, which meant that when successive governments wanted to demonstrate that they were being tough on immigration by tightening immigration control and passing laws creating, and then expanding the hostile environment, this was done with a complete disregard for the Windrush generation."

Williams found that the Home Office showed "ignorance and thoughtlessness" on the issue of race, if not outright institutional racism.

She states: "While I am unable to make a definitive finding of institutional racism within the department, I have serious concerns that these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the department, which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism."

This thoughtlessness was exacerbated by the complexity of immigration and nationality legislation, and by the Government's 'hostile environment' policies towards migrants, and led to the scandal.

Williams notes that "the expansion of the hostile environment from 2014 would increase the reach of immigration controls beyond the Home Office, including through increased demands for documentation to prove status, which would ultimately lead to British people being 'caught up' in enforcement of the measures."

She adds: "warning signs and messages about the hostile environment policy were not heeded. Instead the policy was promoted because of a resolute conviction that it would be effective and should be vigorously pursued. Warnings by external stakeholders, individuals and organisations were not given enough consideration. In developing the hostile environment policy an incorrect assumption was made in the impact assessments for the 2013 and 2015 Immigration Bills that those who were in the country without the ability to demonstrate it with specific documents were here unlawfully. When, in 2017, the department did identify that there might be a settled but undocumented population there was little attempt to understand the make-up of this cohort. This was despite the department having identified a pre-1973 at-risk cohort over a decade earlier. Overall, I found the monitoring of the racial impact of immigration policy and decision-making in the department to be poor."

Reducing the complexity of immigration law is among Williams' recommendations in the review. She notes the complexity makes it difficult for applicants, legal advisers and caseworkers to navigate the system, and it also increases the risk of getting it wrong.

The review states: "Many members of the Windrush generation have said how hard it was to understand what type of application they should be making, to navigate the system and to find the proof of residence the Home Office demanded. Even for those people who did have extensive records, often this was not enough. In part 1 we referred to a man who told us he'd been to primary and secondary school in the UK, been registered with a GP and had a National Insurance number since he was 16, yet still the Home Office told him there was 'no trace' of him. A former serviceman told us that although he'd served in the UK armed forces, he was told he didn't have enough documentary proof of his status. He was so frightened of not being allowed back into the country that, for years, he'd refused his wife's requests for a holiday, telling her instead that he was afraid of flying."

One official is quoted as saying: "If there was a single thing, I'd go after the complexity of the system because that means you don't spot things when they go wrong, or you don't spot them soon enough. The checks and balances don't spot them either and you don't, and you didn't, understand. Because you're dealing with so much complexity, you didn't understand, in advance, that those consequences might have arisen."

As a result of the scandal, the review notes: "People who had lived in the UK lawfully for decades were made to feel like criminals, made to question their identity, and in some cases, made destitute and separated from their family.

"Some lost their jobs and livelihoods and, because of that, their homes. One man we spoke to, who had lived in the UK since 1972, lost his job with a local authority in 2011 after being told to prove his immigration status. He lost his job and was homeless for eight years. He told me the situation 'broke' him. He stayed away from his children as he didn't want to be a burden, and his daughter told me she'd missed her dad."

The Guardian today published an article here looking at 50 lives ruined by the Windrush scandal.

Wendy Williams says in her review that she was provided with no positive justification for why the Windrush generation were treated in the way they were or why the Home Office did not detect sooner that there would be a discrete group likely to be detrimentally affected by the hostile environment measures.

Upon the publication of the report, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "[T]his review makes clear, some members of [the Windrush] generation suffered terrible injustices spurred by institutional failings spanning successive governments over several decades."

Patel added: "There is nothing that I can say today which will undo the pain, the suffering and the misery inflicted on the Windrush generation. What I can do, is say that on behalf of this and successive governments. I am truly sorry. For the actions that spanned decades. I am sorry that people's trust has been betrayed. And we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the Home Office protects, supports and listens to every single part of the community it serves."

In response to the review, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and other rights groups said in a joint statement: "The Windrush Lessons Learned Review puts beyond any doubt what we have said all along: that the Windrush scandal was not an isolated mistake, but the inevitable result of Home Office policies aimed at creating a Hostile Environment for people unable to easily prove their right to be in the country. To this day the elements of institutional racism and policies responsible for the scandal, including the Hostile Environment, continue to tear lives apart.

"Nothing can truly atone for what happened to the Windrush generation. But just as the scandal marked a turning point in public understanding of the human impact of Home Office policy, so this Review must mark a turning point in Government leadership on immigration, if Britain is to believe in its own capacity for humanity, decency and fairness."

Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE was quoted by the Runnymede Trust as saying: "It has been two years since the Windrush Scandal was exposed highlighting how the government systematically, as part of the Hostile Environment, abused the human rights and dignity of British citizens from the Windrush generations and descendants. We now need effective leadership from the Prime Minister to swiftly implement the recommendations with independent oversight of the Home Office. The report is more than lessons learnt, it is an indictment of the nature and impact of structural racism in government and how politicians and senior civil servants over the years have failed to have a duty of care and respect to the Windrush Generation"