Skip to main content
Skip to main content

New Institute for Public Policy Research report examines the impacts and efficacy of ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies


Report finds policies cause destitution and discrimination and do not appear to be working for anyone

Date of Publication:
04 September 2020

New Institute for Public Policy Research report examines the impacts and efficacy of ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies

04 September 2020

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a progressive think tank, yesterday published a new report on the 'hostile environment' immigration policies of recent governments.

The report looks at the history of the hostile environment, its impacts and its efficacy. It draws on a range of research, including interviews with stakeholders, a policy workshop held with a range of experts, and new analysis of Home Office data.

CoverYou can read the 36-page report here.

Overall, the IPPR finds that the hostile environment has contributed to forcing many people into destitution, has helped foster racism and discrimination, and has erroneously affected people with the legal right to live and work in the UK.

The report states: "[T]he track record of the 'hostile environment' is fraught with problems. It's an approach that has caused significant hardship to many without immigration status, forcing people into danger and destitution. In addition, the 'deterrent effect' of the policy on accessing healthcare and reporting crime has had broader implications for public health and safety, and the system has damaged relationships between individuals and frontline workers and severely harmed the reputation of the Home Office. Perhaps most damningly of all, the hostile environment has also fostered discrimination against migrants and people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and it has affected many people who have a legal immigration status but who do not have the relevant documentation. The Windrush scandal highlighted how the hostile environment had disrupted and devastated the lives of people who had lived in the UK for decades."

The IPPR report also finds that there is little evidence that the hostile environment approach to immigration enforcement is working on its own terms. It notes: "In fact, voluntary returns have fallen over the past decade and there is little evidence that the policy has changed people's decisions to come to or leave the UK. At the same time, public trust in the Home Office is low. In short, the current system isn't working for anyone."

The IPPR lists the report's key findings as follows:

"• The enforcement of rules on illegal working targets specific ethnic groups. Home Office data on illegal working penalties reveals that in the last quarter of available data around half of all fines went to South Asian or Chinese restaurants and takeaways. Home Office officials have suggested in the past that they target such businesses because certain nationalities are believed to be removable.

"• The 'right to rent' scheme – which requires landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants – introduces new forms of discrimination into the private rental sector. A survey of more than 100 landlords in 2017 found that around half stated that they were now less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals that originated from outside the EU.

"• Restrictions on access to benefits can force people without immigration status into destitution. There is evidence of malnutrition, cramped and substandard accommodation, and mental ill-health among undocumented migrant families unable to access public funds.

"• Charges for secondary healthcare can deter people from seeking treatment. In one study by Doctors of the World, around 20 per cent of service users at their clinic (143 people) were affected by charging, and of these one third were deterred from seeking timely care as a result.

"• Data-sharing between the police and the Home Office can deter victims and witnesses of crime from coming forward, for fear that details of their immigration status will be passed on to Immigration Enforcement. A recent study of 50 migrant women survivors of domestic violence in London found that a quarter of respondents said that fears over deportation were a factor in deterring them from coming forward and nearly two-thirds had been threatened by their partner that they would be deported if they reported the abuse.

"• UK citizens and people with legal immigration status have also been subject to the hostile environment. Members of the Windrush generation who were settled in the UK before the coming into force of the Immigration Act 1971 were granted residency rights, but many had no documentation to prove their status. As the government's hostile environment measures were rolled out, many lost their jobs, became homeless, and were barred from accessing free healthcare. Up to 57,000 people from Commonwealth countries are potentially affected. There are similar risks for EU citizens living in the UK once the UK ends freedom of movement, given some EU citizens are likely to miss the deadline for confirming their status via the EU Settlement Scheme.

"• The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the impacts of the hostile environment. In one reported case, a cleaner without immigration status originally from the Philippines contracted the virus and died in his home due to fears over coming forward for treatment. Concerns have been raised that NHS charges and restrictions on welfare could undermine efforts to contain the virus and pose a risk to public health."

In a future report, the IPPR will assess the options for reforming immigration enforcement policies and put forward new proposals for changing the current system.