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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Home Office broke equalities law

It is no great surprise that a critical report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has concluded the Home Office broke equalities law when it introduced its hostile environment immigration measure. In fact, the only shock is that this conclusion was not made public much earlier.

The Guardian reports that in the latest damning report on the Home Office’s record in relation to its hostile environment policies and the Windrush scandal, the EHRC study detected “a lack of commitment” within the Home Office to the importance of equality. The department now has a legal duty to review these policies to ensure they are not racially discriminatory, and that they comply with equalities legislation.

The report found that negative consequences of the hostile environment were “repeatedly ignored, dismissed, or their severity disregarded. This happened particularly when they were seen as a barrier to implementing hostile environment policies in a highly politicised environment.” It concluded that the department’s approach to its legal duty to ensure that its policies complied with equality legalisation was “perfunctory”:

Caroline Waters, interim chair of the EHRC, said the policies would look “very different” once this review had been completed. “We would expect them to be different, because we found that equality was generally dismissed or overlooked,” she said.

In its report the EHRC assessed how and whether the Home Office complied with the public sector equality duty (PSED) – a legal requirement since 2010 – when developing, implementing and monitoring the hostile environment policy agenda, particularly in considering its impact on black members of the Windrush generation.

It found that officials failed to appreciate the severity of the negative impacts of its policy on this group of people. Even when the damaging consequences of the hostile environment policies began to emerge, the department failed to engage with representatives of the Windrush generation.

The report found “there was a narrow focus on delivering the political commitment of reducing immigration, and a culture where equality was not seen as important. Identifying risks to equality was therefore not encouraged.”

The EHRC detected an organisation-wide “lack of commitment, including by senior leadership, to the importance of equality and the Home Office’s obligations under the public sector equality duty. There was a misconception by some officials that immigration was exempt from all equalities legislation.”

The behaviour of the UK Government has been a disgrace and many individuals and families have suffered as a result. Let's hope that any action to put this right includes compensation for the injustice that has occurred as a result.
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