Under new Home Office plans, people without immigration status are to have restricted access to services such as healthcare, rented housing, public funds, education, bank accounts and driving licences. There are fears that history is repeating itself due to the policy’s reminiscent nature to the hostile policies that caused the Windrush scandal.
In the wake of the scandal the government halted the suspension of bank accounts. In 2017, the government watchdog found that 1 in 10 people who were refused a bank account due to failed immigration checks were wrongly denied banking access. However, last month Rishi Sunak hinted at a return to these checks in his pledge to reduce the asylum cases backlog.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is forming an intradepartmental committee to re-introduce the policy, it was announced last Sunday. He claims illegal working causes harm in the community and defrauds the public purse. “Our immigration enforcement teams are working to bring those violating our laws to justice. It’s our priority to crack down on this crime and empower law enforcement to remove illegal migrants,” he commented.
A total of 21 trade unions including Unison and PCS have written to the government accusing their hostile policies of allowing the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers and undocumented people.
Solicitor Jacqueline McKenzie, who represented many of the original Windrush victims, said that “given the Windrush scandal is far from resolved, this is not the time for the government to be reinstating the very systems and policies which have been thoroughly discredited”.
The director of the human rights group Stand For All, Daniel Sohege, said “these measures only end up denying people security and leading to more being pushed into precarious positions…when you have an error rate as high as was seen last time…the inevitable outcome is disenfranchising innocent people.” He claims that the government’s focus on such a policy is a means of deflection against the current NHS and cost of living crises.
Among concern that the government rhetoric on immigration is exacerbating the issue, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock claims the government “have broken our asylum system…they failed to stop child migrants being kidnapped by criminal gangs with 79 children missing from one Sussex hotel alone…their chaos is feeding criminality and exploitation”.
However, the deputy director of the Migration Observatory, Rob McNeil, claims that many of the original ‘hostile environment’ policies first introduced by Theresa May are still in place. Examples include sanctions on employers who employ workers without evidence of their legal status, and sanctions on landlords who rent out properties to ‘irregular migrants’.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has reported evidence that some ‘hostile policies’ gave rise to racial discrimination of migrants and minority communities, all of whom were living in the UK legally. ‘One outcome of this [policy] was the Windrush scandal,’ he added.