UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has ordered the removal of unconscious bias training for Home Office staff, including those working in the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) department. UKVI staff were offered the training in 2020 by Challenge Consultancy at a cost of £32,510.
Border Force staff were also given the training despite the government stating that it ‘needed to be phased out in civil services’. Unconscious bias training was introduced for all Whitehall staff in 2014, with online sessions for junior staff and face-to-face lectures for senior officials.
The training was intended to alert officers to any hidden prejudices that they may harbour. Teaching sessions are said to be tailored in such a way that they challenge prejudiced ways of thinking in terms of who gets a promotion and how officers interact with the public.
However, the training has faced accusations of being ‘politically incorrect’ and being part of a broader ‘culture war’. In 2018, a review painted a ‘mixed picture’ of the effectiveness of unconscious bias training, with a final report not only highlighting its ineffectiveness, but also a series of negative effects of the training.
A number of Tory MPs have expressed their outrage over the training, arguing that it has been driven by the ‘woke agenda’ rather than actual evidence. Critics of the training have also claimed that it ‘serves only to enrich consultants’.
In December 2020, following the review, Priti Patel concluded that unconscious bias training ‘did not achieve its intended aims’, and it was decided that it would be phased out across the civil service.
Meanwhile, cabinet office minister, Julia Lopez, also stated that the 2020 review had highlighted how there was ‘no evidence to support the notion that unconscious bias training changes behaviour in the long-term or improves workplace equality in terms of the representation of women, ethnic minorities or other minority groups’.
In the aftermath of the Windrush scandal, Home Office staff were set to face training on the history of race and migration in Britain. The training was recommended following an internal inquiry into the Windrush scandal, and was suggested as part of an improvement plan to ‘change the culture’ within the Home Office.
At the time, Priti Patel, described the improvement plan as an ‘unprecedented programme of change’ in an effort to make the beleaguered Home Office ‘fit for the future’. However, some were sceptical of the Home Office’s willingness to change its ways.
So it proved, as Wendy Williams, the author of the initial report into the Windrush scandal, blasted the Home Office’s response to the scandal in October 2020. Ms Williams made 30 recommendations as part of her ‘Lessons Learned’ report, but was disappointed to find that the Home Office had acted on very few of her recommendations.
At the time, she said: “The Home Office risks losing a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change.”
Ms Williams went on to reinforce her belief that the Home Office is in desperate need of reform.
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