When the Windrush Scandal broke in 2018, it was clear the government needed to carry out a deep internal review to rectify the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation.
The Windrush Lessons Learned review – an independent inquiry into the scandal – came out this month and has reiterated what those of us working on migrants’ rights have always known: that institutional racism has long been at the heart of the Home Office’s decision-making processes.
Importantly, the report recognises that it is time for a complete overhaul of attitudes to migration, particularly as the hostile environment compounded successive government failures in policy making.
The review, carried out by Wendy Williams, examined the key legislative and operational decisions that led to the scandal, and heard countless testimonies from those affected, and from civil society.
Although the scope of the report is limited to the experiences of the Windrush generation, the review clearly identifies the institutional failure of the Home Office to monitor the racial impact of new policies and policies put in place by previous governments.
The report makes 30 recommendations including complete cultural reform of the Home Office. Most importantly, the review calls for the government to ensure that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people, not targets. Whilst it is yet unclear whether the government will implement all the recommendations, it is vital that they are called on to do so, and to honour their commitments to the Windrush generation.
Alongside the recommendations, Williams repeatedly notes that although responsibility for the implementation of the hostile environment lies with Conservative-led governments, the groundwork for these policies was laid by successive governments, and that immigration and citizenship policies have repeatedly discriminated against people of colour. For example, the explicit intent and language of the hostile environment can be traced back to the late 2000s when New Labour sought to introduce criminal offences for illegal working. A draft Home Office policy from 2006, unearthed by Wendy Williams, found that Labour intended to limit access to services and facilities for people with no legal right to be in the UK.
Most disturbingly, the effects of hostile environment policies on the Windrush generation were not missed or unknown to Home Office officials – the scandal was no accident. As the report highlights, from as early as 2006 the Home Office knew and recognised that Commonwealth citizens who had arrived in the UK on or before January 1973 would be put at risk. Further down the line in 2012, countless civil society organisations, including the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, raised the fact that pernicious policies like the ‘right to rent’ would not only deny people access to safe housing but that racial discrimination would increase. What’s more, the voices of communities of colour and migrants on the receiving end of policies implemented from the 1970s onwards, were drowned out by politicians of every ilk, as a means to pander to migration ‘control’narratives.
Whilst the review highlights exactly how the combination of a culture of hostility, alongside the hostile environment discriminated against those born under the British Empire, the reality is that this scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lessons to learn for both the Conservative party and the Labour party.
The next Labour party leader must recognise that denying people access to vital services, based on whether or not they have the right piece of paper, is unjust and counter to the values of the party. A commitment to scrapping all aspects of the hostile environment, including charging to use the NHS, should form a priority campaign area over the next five years. In addition, there is a need to go further than the remit of this report alone and think more broadly about implementing a system which rectifies racial injustice, levels up the rights of all migrants, and allows people to build their lives in the UK. The Labour party as a whole must commit to standing up for all migrants and learning their own lessons.
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