The Home Office has signed up a legal agreement to address its failures to comply with equality law in the Windrush scandal. This came after the equalities watchdog ruled that the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ measure was illegal. The agreement commits the Home Office to a two-year action plan of improvements to address lapses that negatively impacted many migrants.
In November 2020, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that the Home Office broke equalities law in setting up, implementing and monitoring its hostile environment policy agenda. Failure to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) meant it neglected to fully consider the negative consequences the policy would have on the Black members of the Windrush generation.
The ‘hostile environment’ (now known as compliant environment) policy was introduced in 2012 under Theresa May as the then Home Secretary, to make it difficult for illegal migrants to continue living in the UK. However, the policy greatly affected the Windrush generation members who entered the UK legally from the Caribbean, as hundreds of them were wrongly deported.
‘The experiences of the Windrush generation must never be repeated, and must never be forgotten. They serve as a stark reminder of the importance of adhering to equality laws, so that no one has to suffer such unjust treatment,’ Kishwer Falkner, the EHRC chair said.
The Windrush generation were repeatedly failed by successive Governments and we have been resolute in our determination to right the wrongs that they suffered.
‘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,’ Falkner added.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, who also agreed the improvement plan with the EHRC, promised to ensure that past injustices that the Windrush generation suffered were addressed. She also opined that successive UK governments failed the generation.
‘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,’ the Home Secretary and Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft said in a joint statement.
‘We will continue to work closely with the EHRC on delivering the action plan to ensure mistakes like this never happen again,’ they added.
The two-year action plan commits the Home Office to demonstrate that it ‘properly considers evidence and feedback from stakeholders representing affected groups’ and ensure it understands the equality impacts of its policies and practices.
The experiences of the Windrush generation serve as a stark reminder of the importance of adhering to equality laws, so that no one has to suffer such unjust treatment
Reacting to the agreement, the legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Chai Patel, raised concerns over the Home Office’s determination to hold on to its core structure of the hostile environment policy.
‘The Home Office is pushing through radical changes that destroy our system of refugee protection while upholding the hostile environment. Priti Patel [the home secretary] continues to ignore every expert voice warning of the consequences for vulnerable and discriminated against groups,” he said.
The EHRC stated that the Home Office had agreed to set up a stakeholder engagement hub and ensure steps to improve the advice given to Ministers about equality.
The commission said it could take further enforcement action, including applying for a court order, if the Home Office failed to implement the plan.
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