The long awaited Windrush Lessons Learned Review was laid before the UK Parliament on Thursday 19 March, 2020. The damning independent report was produced by Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The report identified that the Windrush scandal was “foreseeable and preventable”. It accused the Home Office of “ignorance and thoughtlessness” over race and highlighted an institutional failure which had turned the lives of thousands of people upside down.
Speaking on the release of the report, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Windrush generation had been let down by the country they call home. She apologised for the “systemic operational failings” which had caused the Home Office actions.
The report had been commissioned in light of the scandal that saw migrants who came to Britain after the Second World War wrongly detained, lose access to benefits when they could not prove their right to be here, and ultimately led to many being wrongfully deported.
David Isaac, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the Windrush scandal had exposed “deep flaws” in the UK’s immigration system.
“This independent review underlines many of our serious and long-standing concerns about the impact of the government’s hostile environment policies on some groups. These are highly significant findings and we will be using our legal powers so this does not happen again.”
The review makes a number of key findings which are accompanied by recommendations on how the Home Office should address the issues that led to such drastic failings.
First and foremost the report recommended that ministers should admit that serious harm was inflicted on people who are British, and provide an unqualified apology to those affected. The government was found to have ignored repeated warnings, and that ministers were still failing to acknowledge the extent of the suffering caused at the hands of the Home Office.
During the course of her interviews, Wendy Williams stated that she was met with a reflexively defensive position from senior civil servants and ministers. While officials agreed the situation was “tragic”, there remained a consistent desire to blame individuals for failing to apply for documentation.
One official told her: “It was the fault of the people caught up in it that they didn’t get evidence of their status and when they tried to, they didn’t provide the right documentation.”.
In the most strongly worded section of the report she expressed frustration that officials still did not accept the full extent of the injustice done and concluded that unless there is a genuine acceptance of its failings, the department risks making the same mistakes in the future.
The Lessons Learned Review also showed that the Home Office had typically shown little appetite for learning and instead deflected any criticism levelled at the department. This had led to a culture of “defensiveness, lack of awareness and an unwillingness to listen and learn from mistakes”.
This review follows a succession of highly critical reports about the Home Office, published over the past 15 years.
Wendy Williams states:
“There is the sense that priorities and decisions have been driven by an overwhelming desire to defend positions of policy and strategy – often at the expense of defending individuals from the impact of policies.”
A particularly damning finding for the Home Office is that race clearly played a part in what happened to the Windrush generation. While the report does not find the Home Office was institutionally racist, but offers a detailed analysis of how “thoughtlessness” and “ignorance” on race contributed to the scandal. Williams also says she had “really serious concerns” about racism within the department.
Williams reports that there is a lack of understanding within the Home Office about the nature of racism, saying:
“There seems to be a misconception that racism is confined to decisions made with racist motivations … This is a misunderstanding of both the law and racism generally.”
Williams also noted that the Home Office failed to track “the racial impact of its policies and decisions”.
To address this issue, Williams recommended that the department should establish a race advisory board, and teach staff about Britain’s colonial history. She found there has been low take-up of unconscious bias training in the department. “The Windrush scandal was in part able to happen because of the public’s and officials’ poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history.”
The report also found that some Windrush victims remain in severe financial and personal difficulties, facing homelessness and unemployment because of Home Office policies. Williams found that many people affected have still not approached the Home Office because of the threat of immigration enforcement action and as a result, the true scale of the problem remains unknown.
To solve this, the report recommends that the Home Secretary should commision a full review of the hostile environment policy and measures.
The Home Office was also found to lack empathy for individuals and the report criticises the use of words like “stock” and “flow” when describing immigration numbers for dehumanising those the policies were affecting.
The report concludes that the department also needs to be more proactive in identifying people affected. While the government has admitted that over 160 people were wrongly detained or deported to Caribbean countries, it has never investigated who has been deported to other Commonwealth countries.
Responding to the report, Priti Patel said: “I am sorry that people’s trust has been betrayed And we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the Home Office protects, supports and listens to every single part of the community it serves.”
However, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, whose mother was a member of the Windrush generation said:
“People will believe her apology when they see her genuinely seek to implement the recommendations in the review…it isn’t necessarily the money, the inconvenience or the tragedy of being deported, it is the insult to people who always believed they were British.”