The “hostile environment” policy has fostered racism, pushed people into destitution and wrongly targeted people who are living in the UK legally according to the report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). The measures formally introduced by Theresa May while she was home secretary have also failed to achieve their key objective of increasing the numbers of people choosing voluntarily to leave the UK.
Instead, the policy has “severely harmed the reputation of the Home Office” and caused a climate of “policy paralysis” within the department, where officials remain in principle committed to the objectives of the hostile environment approach but are “increasingly uncomfortable about its practical implications”, the thinktank says. A series of measures have been introduced over the past decade aimed at making life harder for people who are unable to prove that they have the right to live in the UK. The hostile environment makes it harder for individuals without proof of their right to be in the UK to take up employment, rent property, open bank accounts, get driving licences, and access welfare and public services. Last year the high court found that the hostile environment’s rental checks, which require landlords to assess whether a prospective tenant is living in the UK legally, were racially discriminatory. An inquiry into the Windrush scandal, in which thousands of legal UK residents were classified as illegal immigrants and denied the right to work, rent property, access healthcare and benefits, also criticised the workings of the Home Office’s hostile environment.
“It is clear that despite the wide-ranging impacts of the hostile environment on individuals and communities, there is no evidence to suggest that it meets its primary objective to increase voluntary returns. The available evidence suggests that the hostile environment forces people into poverty and destitution, denying them rights to essential goods and services, but it does not necessarily encourage them to leave the UK in greater numbers,” the report says. “Restrictions on access to benefits can force people without immigration status into destitution. There is evidence of malnutrition, cramped and substandard accommodation, and mental ill-health among undocumented migrant families unable to access public funds … The hostile environment does not appear to be working for anyone: for migrants, for the Home Office, or for the wider public.”
Amreen Qureshi, a researcher for the IPPR and the report’s lead author, said: “The hostile environment is a policy based on ideology, not evidence. Our report finds that it has forced people into destitution without encouraging them to leave the UK, highlighting both its poisonous impacts and its ineffectiveness.”
Employers, landlords and frontline workers are now frequently expected to conduct immigration checks, as well as immigration officials. This shift of responsibility has prompted “discrimination against people from minority ethnic backgrounds by leading to new forms of racial profiling,” according to the IPPR.
Healthcare workers have expressed unease at having to perform immigration checks on patients, the report states, and some patients with uncertain immigration status have been discouraged from seeking vital healthcare as a result of the policy.
“There is anger over what frontline workers are being asked to do. People in the NHS are already exhausted from the underfunded, under-resourced conditions, and they are overworked,” an NHS worker told IPPR researchers.