Immigration has always been a cause of public and political debate. Despite years of discourse on the topic, we remain concerned by how little evidence the Home Office (the Department) has with which to inform that debate. It is disappointing that, despite this Committee’s previous findings, the Department is still not sufficiently curious about the impact of its actions and the underlying reasons for the challenges it faces.
We are concerned that if the Department does not make decisions based on evidence, it instead risks making them on anecdote, assumption and prejudice. Worryingly, it has no idea of what impact it has achieved for the £400 million spent each year by its Immigration Enforcement directorate. There are major holes in the Department’s understanding of the size and scale of illegal immigration and the extent and nature of any resulting harm. It does not understand the support people need to navigate its systems effectively and humanely, or how its actions affect them. In 2019, 62% of immigration detainees were released from detention because the Department could not return them as planned to their country of origin. The Department does not really understand why this figure is so high or what it can do ensure these returns are completed as planned.
The significant lack of diversity at senior levels of the Department means it does not access a sufficiently wide range of perspectives when establishing rules and assessing the human impact of its decisions. Professional judgement cannot be relied upon if an organisation has blind spots, and the Windrush scandal demonstrated the damage such a culture creates. We are pleased to hear the Permanent Secretary say that he is committed to achieving greater diversity and acknowledge clearly that with diversity comes better leadership, decision-making and governance. The Department must deliver on these intentions to reduce the likelihood of another Windrush-type scandal in the future.
The Immigration Enforcement directorate has some big challenges ahead. It will need to respond to the end of the transition period for leaving the EU and the new points-based immigration system, implement the recommendations of the Windrush lessons learned review, and overcome the damage done to its reputation. The Department showed a disturbing lack of urgency in some areas. It is good to hear the Department promising improvement and recognising the need for it—but actions speak louder than words and we expect to see tangible improvements when we next review progress.
Published: 18 September 2020