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Priti Patel 'truly sorry' after damning report reveals 'profound institutional failure' led to Windrush scandal

Windrush generation

5 min read

Priti Patel has said she is "truly sorry" for the way the Home Office treated the Windrush generation after a damning report into the scandal accused the department of "a profound institutional failure" spanning decades.

The Home Secretary urged politicians of all stripes to "do better at walking in other peoples' shoes", as the long-awaited independent review by Wendy Williams said ministers and officials had displayed an "institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race".

The Windrush scandal erupted in 2018 after it emerged that Caribbean nationals who had been granted the right to stay in the UK and had been in the country for years were deported or lost access to public services under an immigration clampdown.

The scathing review from Ms Williams said that successive governments had failed to provide the documents needed to allow those granted the right to stay in the UK by the 1971 Immigration Act to prove their status - a move that "set the trap for the Windrush generation".

And it took aim at governments throughout the 1990s and 2000s for creating a "hostile environment" in immigration policy, that "aimed to make life as difficult as possible for people with no legal status in the UK" and therefore "trapped members of the Windrush generation".

Ms Williams' review team combed nearly 69,000 official documents, and interviewed 450 government staff, officials and politicians as well as 270 people affected by the scandal, for a report that has been nearly two years in the making.

The Home Office, the report finds, "lost sight of people the department had a duty to protect", with an over-emphasis on meeting targets.

It said the departnment had demanded "an unreasonable level of proof" for the Windrush generation to be able to prove their status, and repeatedly failed to see how its policies would hit those who came to the UK from Carribean nations, as well as their chldren.

"This was evident, from how it developed, implemented and evaluated policy, to how it dealt with individual people," the report said. 

"This makes the scandal more than a case of bureaucratic bad luck. It makes it a profound institutional failure."


The report meanwhile said members of the Windrush generation had been "institutionally forgotten", with accurate records not kept - and opportunities missed to "correct the racial impact of historical legislation". 

The Home Office showed "a lack of empathy for individuals and some instances of the use of dehumanising jargon and clichés", Ms Williams said, with "little evidence" that it understood its mission to serve "the public as a whole".

Responding to the report in the House of Commons, Ms Patel said its findings would be "all too relatable" to many people across the country.

And she said: "There are lessons to learn for the Home Office but also society as a whole.

"Despite the diverse and open nature of our country, too many people still feel that they may be treated differently because of who they are or where their parents came from."

The Cabinet minister said the review's findings should be taken on board at "all levels and by all political parties" - as she urged politicains across the House "to look to ourselves"

"We must all do better at walking in other peoples' shoes," Ms Patel added.

"We must all take responsibility for the failings that led to the unimaginable suffering of this generation. And let me be clear: there is nothing that I can say today which will undo the pain, the suffering and the misery inflicted upon the Windrush generation.

"What I can do is say that on behalf of this and successive governments, I am truly sorry for the actions that spanned decades.

"And I'm 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."

Labour's Diane Abbott said it was vital for the report's findings not to be lost amid the "naitonal crisis" of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Shaodw Home Secretary said: "The Windrush generation deserve than that."

And she added: "As the Home Secretary will know, the recommendations in this review have three main elements: that the Home Office must acknowledge the wrong which has been done, that it must open itself up to external scrutiny and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people. And whatever the objective, it should always be rooted in humanity."


Among its recommendations, the Williams review called on ministers to admit "that serious harm" was inflicted on British people, and ordered an "unqualified apology to those affected and to the wider black African-Caribbean community as soon as possible".

But that apology would, the review said, be judged "by how far the Home Office demonstrates a commitment to learn from its mistakes by making fundamental changes to its culture and way of working".

Ministers should also publish a "comprehensive" improvement plan within six months of the report, with Ms Williams vowing to conduct a follow-up review in 18 months' time to check progress. 

The report calls for a programme of "reconciliation events with members of the Windrush generation" - allowing those affected to share their experiences in the presence of senior Home Office staff and ministers, with follow-up support and financial help offered.

Meanwhile the Government is ordered to be more proactive in identifying those affected by the scandal, with the review calling on the Home Office's Historical Cases Review to broaden its scope beyond people from the Carribean to also take the broader Commonwealth into account.

And ministers should ensure all Home Office staff "learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world, including Britain’s colonial history".

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