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The Home Office has been forced to sign a legal document ensuring that the Windrush UK immigration scandal is not repeated. According to a report published by The Guardian, the agreement commits the government agency to rectifying failures and complying with equality laws while implementing its controversial ‘hostile environment’ policy.
The agreement, signed with the equalities watchdog, will run for two years and requires the Home Office to improve its policies and procedures to ensure that it learns lessons from failures within the department that led to the Windrush scandal.
In November 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a scathing report that highlighted how the Home Office had broken equalities law when outlining new UK immigration legislation. The EHRC accused the Home Office of ‘repeatedly ignoring’ the impact of its policies, and adopting a lax approach to equality law compliance.
Public sector equality duty
The report stated that the Home Office’s failure to adhere to public sector equality duty (PSED) when developing and implementing the hostile environment policy meant that it had ‘neglected to fully consider the impact its policies would have on black members of the Windrush community.’
The EHRC ordered the Home Office to review its hostile environment measures – now referred to as compliant environment policies – to make sure that they adhere to equality legislation, especially with regard to race.
The legal agreement signed by the Home Office requires the government department to demonstrate that it has a clear understanding of the potential and actual impact of its work on different protected characteristic groups, according to The Guardian report.
Windrush must never be repeated
Chair of the EHRC, Kishwer Falkner, said: “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.”
“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.
The agreement signed by the Home Office has not been released into the public domain. However, a spokesperson for the EHRC, insisted that it would hold the Home Office to account, saying: “It commits the Home Office over the next two years to showing that it properly considers evidence and feedback from stakeholders representing affected groups.”
“The Home Office must show that it is taking active steps to understand the equality impacts of its policies and practices. If the Home Office fails to comply with the terms of the agreement, the EHRC can apply for a court order forcing it to adhere to the terms,” the spokesperson added.
However, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Chai Patel, expressed concerns over the Home Office’s determination to maintain the core structure of its hostile environment policy.
He said: “The Home Office is pushing through radical changes that destroy our system of refugee protection while upholding the hostile environment. [The Home Secretary] Priti Patel continues to ignore every expert voice warning of the consequences for vulnerable and discriminated against groups.”
“We welcome this legally binding agreement, which gives the Equality and Human Rights Commission enforcement powers to hold the Home Office to its equalities duties, as this is one of the only avenues to hold the Home Office to account,” Patel added.
Righting the wrongs
In a joint statement issued by Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and the Home Office’s permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, the pair 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.”
“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. We will continue to work closely with the EHRC on delivering the action plan to ensure mistakes like this never happen again.”
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