Members of the ‘Windrush generation’—people who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries after the Second World War and before 1973—have been denied their rights. Many have been treated as if they were in the country illegally despite being lawfully resident for many decades. People have lost their homes and their jobs and been refused healthcare, pensions and access to social security. In some cases, people have been subject to immigration enforcement measures and held in immigration detention; others may have been removed or deported from the UK. Some, having left the UK on holiday or for a similarly short period, have been refused re-entry and had their settled life in the UK unjustly taken away from them. Many of their children and spouses, who joined them in the UK after 1973, or who were born here, have also been affected.
In this inquiry we have looked at what went wrong, how many people have been affected, and the adequacy of the Government’s response. However, the Government has not been able to answer many of our questions, including on the extent of the issue, and we have not had access to internal Home Office papers so this inquiry is not an alternative to a properly independent investigation. We agree with the Government that some members of the Windrush generation have been treated appallingly. They must quickly receive documentation of their legal status, so they can fully access their rights, and those who have suffered must be properly compensated and not only for financial losses incurred.
Specifically, we found that the Windrush generation was caught up by a series of different policy, cultural and organisational changes in the Home Office. These include the removal of Home Office caseworker discretion, the use of targets, restrictions on independent checks and appeals, stronger controls at the border and a raft of laws collectively known as the ‘hostile’ or, more recently, the ‘compliant’ environment. Within the Home Office a policy shift towards an increasingly rigid, rules-based culture had led to an environment in which people wishing to document their status appear to have been automatically treated with suspicion and scepticism. They had been made to follow processes that appear designed to set them up to fail, while at the same time vital avenues for support such as legal aid and the right of appeal had been removed. We welcome the Home Secretary’s pledge that this culture will change and we will monitor the work of UK Visas and Immigration to ensure his words are followed through with action. Outside the Home Office, members of the Windrush generation had become caught by policies designed for those in the country unlawfully. There is little evidence that the Home Office has checked the effectiveness of these policies despite clear warning signs and evidence of mistakes being made. We call for essential checks and balances in the system to be reinstated, and for the whole suite of hostile environment measures to be subject to an evaluation, in terms of their efficacy, fairness, impact (including both intended and unintended consequences) and value-for-money.
We are deeply concerned that it took so long for the Government to acknowledge and address the situation of the Windrush generation. Either people at a senior level in the Home Office were aware of the problems being caused but chose to ignore them, naively expecting caseworkers to correct any wrongs, or oversight mechanisms failed.
The lessons learned review must be substantially independent if it is to have credibility. It should look at whether a loss of experienced staff and institutional knowledge contributed to the Windrush crisis. It must get to the bottom of why warnings, both internal and external, were disregarded and how processes can be improved to surface systemic problems earlier so that a future crisis can be averted. It must also seriously consider the duty of public accountability by publishing its findings and proactively engaging with people who have been affected. The Home Office must learn lessons from the Windrush scandal, to ensure no-one else living in the UK has to go through the same mistreatment, whether now or in the future.
Published: 3 July 2018