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Sanwar Ali comment:
There are numerous examples of discrimination in British society unfortunately. As well as the Windrush scandal, a UK visa regulator sponsored by the Home Office is currently being sued for race discrimination. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is also being sued for race discrimination in the employment tribunal. There have been a number of discrimination claims by doctors against the General Medical Council in the Employment Tribunal. You could be forgiven for thinking that the UK is a deeply racist society.
The long-awaited ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’ was released on Thursday 19 March, condemning the Home Office for showing ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards race’. Critics have slammed the timing of the report’s release following a series of delays, accusing the government of trying to bury it amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Shortly after the release of the report, Home Secretary Priti Pratel issued an official apology in the House of Commons, dedicating her statement to the Windrush generation. Patel said: “I have personally been deeply moved reading the report.”
The report, compiled by Wendy Williams – an inspector of constabulary, was scathing of Home Office staff and government ministers. The damning document accuses them of continually failing to admit the magnitude of their mistakes and the damage inflicted on the lives of thousands of legal UK residents, classified as illegal immigrants.
Alliance of anti-racism groups calls for racism enquiry
Following the release of the report, an alliance of 16 anti-racism groups called for an inquiry into the extent of institutional racism within the Home Office. The alliance said: “The Windrush Lessons Learned Review proves institutional failures to understand racism.”
The 275-page report was commissioned following the exposure of the scandal amid former Prime Minister Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy. The scandal led to the resignation of then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.
The 16 groups have now urged a review of the Home Office’s UK visa and immigration policies, to determine whether they are discriminatory.
While the report did not officially label the Home Office as institutionally racist, the deputy director of the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, Zubaida Haque said, said that ‘the government needs to ask serious questions of Home Office culture, attitudes and immigration and citizenship policies, which seemingly discriminate against black and ethnic minority British citizens.’
Ms Haque said that the report exposes that the injustice of the Windrush scandal was ‘no accident, but a very clear indication of institutional failures to understand race and racism.’
Culture of disbelief and carelessness at UK visa at Home Office
The report condemned the Home Office for operating a ‘culture of disbelief and carelessness.’
In her official apology in the House of Commons, Priti Patel said: “There is nothing I can say today that will undo the suffering … On behalf of this and successive governments I am truly sorry.”
However, victims caught up in the scandal, said Patel’s apology is shallow. 68-year-old Michael Braithwaite was one such victim, losing his job as a special-needs teaching assistant at a London primary school in 2017, despite having lived in the UK for half a century and working at the school for 15 years.
Mr Braithwaite told The Guardian: “Patel’s new apology, almost two years after the government’s first apology, leaves me frustrated. It’s the same expression of empathy, and more promises like last time. It’s there to make us feel better, but things haven’t changed.”
Responding to the report on behalf of the Labour Party Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary – whose mother is a member of the Windrush generation, said: “The verdict that there are elements of institutional racism at the Home Office is damning, and means there must be a root-and-branch overhaul and change of culture.”
Windrush generation poorly served
Wendy Williams, the report’s author, said at the time the review was launched that the Windrush generation had been ‘poorly served by Britain.’ She said: “A country to which they have contributed so much, has wronged them. They have every right to make a life in the UK.”
“The many stories of injustice and hardships are heart-breaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to so many individuals and families,” Williams added.
The report says that the ‘root cause’ of the scandal can be traced back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when some of the legislation had ‘racial motivations.’
Williams said: “Race clearly played a part in what occurred. The factors that I identified demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation.”
The review also found a number of alarming practices taking place within the Home Office, including:
- Fragmented decision making
- Target-driven goals within UK visas and immigration enforcement sections
- A lack of empathy in some cases along with dehumanising jargon and cliches
- Senior civil servants and former ministers showing ignorance, lack of understanding and acceptance of the full extent of the injustice
- Changes to legal aid contributing to the scandal
- A history of prejudice towards black people and wider society
Ms Williams revealed that she had spoken to former Home Secretaries, Amber Rudd, Theresa May, Alan Johnson and Jacqui Smith about the issues.
UK visa Windrush Report watered down
Some responding to the report say that it has been watered down by failing to specifically say that the Home Office is ‘institutionally racist.’ Ms Williams rebuffed these comments, saying: “If anyone thinks I’ve pulled my punches I’d be very surprised indeed.”
The report outlines 30 recommendations for the Home Office, among which is a review of the government agency’s hostile immigration policy. It has also been recommended that the department appoints a Migrants Commissioners, develops a programme of cultural change for the department and establishes a race advisory board.
Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Isaac, said: “The Windrush scandal exposed ‘deep flaws’ in the UK’s visa immigration system.”
“This independent review underlines many of our serious and long-standing concerns about the impact of the government's hostile environment policies on some groups. These are highly significant findings and we will be using our legal powers so this does not happen again,” he added.
The hard-hitting review concluded that wholesale reform is needed of the ‘reckless’ and ‘defensive’ Home Office, which wrecked the lives of thousands of people, many of whom lost their livelihoods and their homes when told they must leave the country or ended up in detention.
The Windrush scandal has seen the government face a huge backlash over its treatment of the Windrush generation, while further adding to the poor reputation of the Home Office – a government agency that many think should be scrapped.
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