Earlier this week, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee released the report on its inquiry into the Windrush scandal. It is highly critical of the government’s actions and confirmed many of the concerns raised in JPIT’s recent report Destitution, Discrimination & Distrust: The Web of the Hostile Environment.
The cross-party group of MPs concluded that some members of the ‘Windrush Generation’ had been “denied their rights” and “treated appallingly”. Their inquiry found that this was the result of deliberate government policies and practices, reporting that “the extension of hostile environment measures and enforcement has led to people with a lawful right to be in the UK being unable to access services to which they are entitled. As has become clear, the Windrush generation are one such example of people with a lawful right to be here, caught up in the compliant environment, and who have suffered avoidable hardship and distress as a result.”
This echoes JPIT’s description of the hostile environment as “a web of checks designed to catch people out,” and the widely publicised experiences of some members of the Windrush Generation illustrate the human cost of such policies. But we believe that no-one, whatever their immigration status, should intentionally be made to suffer such hardship and distress. As Christians, we affirm the dignity of every human being and so consider it unacceptable to ever use destitution, or the threat of destitution, as a tool of government policy.
A culture of suspicion
The Committee condemned the increasing culture of distrust within the Home Office, which created “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.”
As Christians, we believe that God calls us into relationships founded on mutuality and interdependence, not distrust and suspicion.
While it lays bare the negative impact of the hostile environment policy on the Windrush Generation, the Committee report also questions its effectiveness. It points out that “one of the aims of the hostile environment is to encourage people illegally present in the UK to leave; yet [Home Office staff] told us that the number of voluntary returns had not increased following the introduction of more stringent measures.”
It heard that the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration had found no evidence that the Home Office was measuring the effectiveness of the hostile environment. Nor was it collecting any data on the mistakes it has made in the enforcement of the hostile environment, and “did not appear to appreciate the seriousness of such errors for the individuals affected.”
The Committee is scathing in its response to these shortcomings, saying “It is irresponsible for the Government to rely on a policy when it lacks information on whether that policy is leading to injustice or abuse or even achieving its aims.”
The report calls for an independent review to look at the lessons to be learned 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.”
Looking at the wider implications of its inquiry, it concludes, “We question whether the hostile environment should in fact continue in anything like its current form. Simply rebranding it as the ‘compliant’ environment is a meaningless response to genuine concerns. 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.”
As Churches, we agree. We believe that the hostile environment inflicts destitution, encourages discrimination, and spins a web of distrust. We are demanding a full independent inquiry into Home Office immigration policy and practice which examines the damaging effect that they are having on the whole of society, as a first step towards the ending of the hostile environment.
To add your voice to the campaign…