The Home Office broke equality law when it imposed its “hostile environment” immigration policies which contributed to the Windrush scandal, a report has found.
Problems caused by the policies were “repeatedly ignored, dismissed or their severity disregarded” as they were being developed, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) assessment.
The Windrush scandal broke in 2018 when it was discovered that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights.
Under the hostile environment legislation, announced in 2012, the government aimed to push out undocumented migrants.
But many of the Windrush generation, who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973, had arrived as children on their parents’ passports and the Home Office had destroyed thousands of landing cards and other documents.
As a result, many legal migrants struggled to prove they had the right to live in the UK under the new legislation, with some losing access to housing, healthcare and bank accounts.
The EHRC agreed with an earlier report that the experiences of the Windrush generation were “foreseeable and avoidable”, and its chair described their treatment as a “shameful stain on British history”.
Even as the effects of the hostile environment policies began to emerge, the Home Office had “limited” engagement with those from the Windrush generation.
To make sure the events are never repeated, the government department has committed to an agreement with the EHRC to take action.
Among the EHRC’s recommendations are for the Home Office to remain transparent, engage with affected people, consider historical context and improve its understanding and compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).
Caroline Waters, interim chair of the EHRC, said: “The treatment of the Windrush generation as a result of hostile environment policies was a shameful stain on British history.
“It is unacceptable that equality legislation, designed to prevent an unfair or disproportionate impact on people from ethnic minorities and other groups, was effectively ignored in the creation and delivery of policies that had such profound implications for so many people’s lives.
“Our review has identified where the Home Office fell short of its legal obligations.”
A scheme was set up last year to compensate members of the Windrush generation who were affected.
Home Secretary Priti Patel and permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said: “We are determined to right the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation and make amends for the institutional failings they faced spanning successive governments over several decades.
“This report highlights a number of important areas for improvement by the Home Office, building on the work we are already doing in response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review to apply a more rigorous approach to policy making, increase openness to scrutiny, and create a more inclusive workforce – including by launching comprehensive training for everyone working in the Home Office to ensure they understand and appreciate the history of migration and race in this country.
“We are working closely with the EHRC on an action plan designed to ensure that we never make similar mistakes in the future.”