The Home Office broke the law in its implementation of controversial ‘hostile environment’ policies, according to a new report by the equalities watchdog. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report found that the Home Office failed to comply with its duties under the Equality Act, a legal obligation since 2010.
The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) requires public bodies to take into account the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and advance equal opportunities when making decisions and implementing policies. The watchdog’s assessment focused particularly on the impact of hostile environment policies, now known as ‘compliant environment’ measures, on members of the Windrush generation and their descendants. Agreeing with the conclusion of the 2018 Windrush Lessons Learned Review, the report found that that what happened to those affected by the Windrush scandal was ‘foreseeable and avoidable’. Specifically, where negative policy impacts were identified by the Home Office, they were ‘repeatedly ignored, dismissed, or their severity disregarded’.
‘The treatment of the Windrush generation as a result of hostile environment policies was a shameful stain on British history,’ said Caroline Waters, interim chair of the EHRC. ‘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’.
The report concluded that the Home Office approach towards its legal duty was ‘perfunctory’, marked by a ‘lack of organisation-wide commitment, including by senior leadership, to the importance of equality and the Home Office’s obligations under the PSED’.
Labour MPs called for action to be taken to remedy Home Office failings. David Lammy MP tweeted: ‘Black Britons were detained, deported, denied healthcare, housing and employment by their own government because of the colour of their skin. Since the scandal broke, the Home Office has only paid lip service to its victims. It must now urgently rectify this gross injustice.’
Black Britons were detained, deported, denied healthcare, housing and employment by their own government because of the colour of their skin.
Since the scandal broke, the Home Office has only paid lip service to its victims.
It must now urgently rectify this gross injustice.
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) November 25, 2020
In response to the damning report, Priti Patel and Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said they were ‘determined to right the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation and make amends for the institutional failings they faced, spanning successive governments over several decades’. The department is now legally obligated to review its policies to ensure that they comply with equalities legislation. It is expected that a proposed action plan will be presented to the EHRC by the end of January 2021.