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Mon, 13 July 2020

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Home Office actions affecting the Windrush generation under review by equality body

Equality and Human Rights Commission

3 min read

Legal action is to be taken by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to review how the Home Office complied with equality law when implementing the ‘hostile environment’ immigration measures that had such a serious and damaging effect on many members of the group known as the Windrush generation and their descendants.

As a result of these policies thousands of Commonwealth citizens, who were invited from the Caribbean to help re-build post-war Britain, found it increasingly difficult to live, work and access services in the UK, with often life changing consequences. Many people lost their homes and jobs, were refused vital healthcare or even deported to places they barely remembered. The Home Office has publicly acknowledged that this was unacceptable, and has committed to acting on the recommendations made by the independent Williams Windrush Lessons Learned Review.

The EHRC is using its legal powers to inform this process by launching an assessment under section 31 of the Equality Act 2006 to examine whether, and how, the Home Office complied with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) in relation to understanding the impact of its policies on the Windrush generation. The EHRC will develop recommendations based on its assessment. These will then be used to inform the Home Office’s policies and procedures in the future.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“The Windrush scandal and hostile environment policies have cast a shadow across the UK and its values. We are working with the Home Office to determine what must change so that this shameful period of our history is not repeated.

“The impact of Covid-19 and the killing of George Floyd by US police officers has resulted in urgent calls for action to end the systemic and entrenched race inequalities that exist in our country. The law requires that all public bodies must promote inclusivity and opportunity by considering the impact their policies have on ethnic minorities. We have long called for Government to produce a comprehensive race equality strategy to tackle these injustices. This assessment and the Home Office’s response to the recommendations in Wendy Williams’ report will focus on the importance of PSED to put our country’s values on track.

“This work is part of our long-term strategy to tackle structural inequalities in Britain by ensuring public bodies use the PSED more effectively. In this tenth year of the Equality Act, we will work with Government to put equality at the heart of its decision-making so that everyone has a fair chance to thrive.”

Amongst other obligations, public bodies must have due regard to advancing equality of opportunity between people who share protected characteristics and those who do not. The EHRC has provided the Home Office with a proposed terms of reference for its assessment to examine how the department engaged with affected individuals and communities to understand the relevant historical and contextual factors when developing immigration policy from 2012-18. It will particularly consider how the department understood, monitored and reviewed the impact of placing increasingly onerous documentation requirements on the Windrush generation.

The EHRC’s work will draw upon the findings of the Williams Review to help drive improvements in how the Home Office engages with affected individuals, communities and stakeholders when designing future immigration policies. The Review’s findings will also help to signpost other areas where more evidence from the Home Office may be required.

A number of MPs and organisations have asked the EHRC to consider the use of its legal powers. The EHRC will engage with individuals affected, race equality leaders and other partners on recommendations for how future immigration policy can be developed, approached, and implemented in a way that understands and reflects the diverse historical and cultural contexts of ethnic minorities in Britain.

The Home Office now has opportunity to respond to the EHRC terms of reference. Full details on the assessment will be published soon.

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