According to a report published by The Guardian, the Home Office has signed a legal document designed to ensure that the Windrush scandal is never repeated.
Through signing the document, the Home Office has committed to rectifying failures and adhering to equality laws while administering its deeply controversial Hostile Environment policy.
Signed in conjunction with the equalities watchdog, the agreement will run for two years, and forces the Home Office to improve policies and learn lessons from the failures that created the Windrush scandal.
In November 2020, the EHRC released a damning report into Home Office violations of equalities law when setting out its proposals for new immigration laws. The EHRC asserted that the Home Office repeatedly ignored the impact of its policies and took a slack approach to equality law compliance.
Equality law compliance
According to the report, the Home Office’s inability to comply with public sector equality duty (PSED) when formulating and implementing its Hostile Environment policy meant that it had ‘neglected to fully consider the impact its policies would have on black members of the Windrush community.’
In a bid to ensure compliance with equality legislation- particularly those relating to race- the EHRC called on the Home Office to re-evaluate its Hostile Environment measures.
The legal document stipulates that the Home Office must demonstrate an understanding of the actual and potential impact of its actions on different protected characteristic groups.
Kishwer Falkner, chair of the EHRC, 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.”
Although the legal document is not available for public scrutiny, a spokesperson for the EHRC has provided assurances that it will hold the government department to account:
“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.”
But despite the Home Office signing the document and committing to its demands, concerns remain. Chai Patel, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), expressed fears regarding the Home Office’s desire to uphold the structure of the Hostile Environment:
“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.”
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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The legal document is designed to ensure that the Home Office rights the wrongs of the Windrush scandal and avoids creating a similar disaster in the future. [Image: FT]
A 2018 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission condemned the Home Office’s failure to abide by equalities law when implementing its Hostile Environment policy. [Image: Relocate Magazine]
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