Ministers 'ignored warnings' that could have protected Windrush generation, watchdog finds
Ministers failed to heed warnings that could have stopped “vulnerable” Windrush citizens from being swept up in an immigration clampdown, an official report has concluded.
The National Audit Office watchdog said impact assessments carried out by the Home Office ahead of the roll-out of its controversial ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy had “very little analysis” of the negative effects on communities who might struggle to prove their immigration status.
The Home Office has so far identified 164 people who came to Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s who were wrongfully detained or removed since 2002.
But the NAO said the department had ignored several warnings since 2014 from both it and the separate, independent borders watchdog about its use of data and the wider handling of the immigration system.
The audit office says the way the department handled data had increased the likelihood of wrongful removals and detentions and curbed access to public services.
Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: “The treatment of people who had a legitimate right to remain in the UK, raises questions about how the Home Office discharged its duty of care towards people who were made vulnerable because of lack of documentation.
“It failed to protect their rights to live, work and access services in the UK, and many have suffered distress and material loss as a result.”
The watchdog added: “This was both predictable and forewarned. The department is taking steps to put things right for the Caribbean community, but it has shown a surprising lack of urgency to identify other groups that may have been affected.”
The NAO meanwhile found that the Home Office is still “narrowly” focussed on people from twelve Caribbean countries in its attempts to address the problem.
But it warned that the department still does not have plans to look into the cases of around 160,000 wider Commonwealth citizens born before 1973 who may also have been detained or deported.
'INJUSTICES AND SCANDALS'
Labour said the “damning report” revealed “a catalogue of Government failures”.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott added: “It is utterly wrong that the Government is trying to limit the Windrush scandal solely to victims from the Caribbean when it affects everyone who came here from the Commonwealth before 1973.
“They have all been subject to the Government’s ‘hostile environment’.
“It is also quite unacceptable that the Home Office’s own practices continue to deepen the crisis.
“Ministers’ repeated assurances that they are on top of this scandal are clearly worthless.
“They need to finally take charge of this shambles, start treating all the Windrush generation fairly and legally and end the hostile environment.
“Otherwise, this scandal will only continue, and more injustices and scandals will inevitably follow.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The Home Secretary has issued a profound apology to the Windrush generation for the experiences they have faced and, as the NAO’s report acknowledges, our Taskforce has taken thousands of phone calls and helped over 2,400 people of any nationality prove their status in the UK."
They department added: “The majority of those helped by the Taskforce are of Caribbean origin, but we have always been clear that it accepts applications under the Windrush scheme from people of any nationality who arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988 and are settled here.
“We have worked hard to raise awareness of the support on offer across a wide range of communities.
“The Home Secretary is absolutely determined to right the wrongs of the past and an independent lessons learned review, led by Wendy Williams, has been set up to establish what went wrong and how to prevent it happening again.
“In the New Year, we will also outline details of the compensation scheme for those affected and how members of the Windrush generation can apply.”